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Title: Germinal
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Germinal" ***

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GERMINAL

BY

ÉMILE ZOLA


Translated and Introduced

By

Havelock Ellis


Translated and Introduced by Havelock Ellis

J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.

Aldine House--Bedford St.--London

1885



Introduction By Havelock Ellis


'GERMINAL' was published in 1885, after occupying Zola during the
previous year. In accordance with his usual custom--but to a greater
extent than with any other of his books except _La Débâcle_--he
accumulated material beforehand. For six months he travelled about
the coal-mining district in northern France and Belgium, especially
the Borinage around Mons, note-book in hand. 'He was inquisitive, was
that gentleman', miner told Sherard who visited the neighbourhood at a
later period and found that the miners in every village knew _Germinal_.
That was a tribute of admiration the book deserved, but it was never
one of Zola's most popular novels; it was neither amusing enough nor
outrageous enough to attract the multitude.

Yet _Germinal_ occupies a place among Zola's works which is constantly
becoming more assured, so that to some critics it even begins to seem
the only book of his that in the end may survive. In his own time, as
we know, the accredited critics of the day could find no condemnation
severe enough for Zola. Brunetière attacked him perpetually with a fury
that seemed inexhaustible; Schérer could not even bear to hear his name
mentioned; Anatole France, though he lived to relent, thought it would
have been better if he had never been born. Even at that time, however,
there were critics who inclined to view Germinal more favourably. Thus
Faguet, who was the recognized academic critic of the end of the last
century, while he held that posterity would be unable to understand how
Zola could ever have been popular, yet recognized him as in Germinal
the heroic representative of democracy, incomparable in his power of
describing crowds, and he realized how marvellous is the conclusion of
this book.

To-day, when critics view Zola In the main with indifference rather
than with horror, although he still retains his popular favour, the
distinction of _Germinal_ is yet more clearly recognized. Seillière,
while regarding the capitalistic conditions presented as now of an
ancient and almost extinct type, yet sees _Germinal_ standing out as
'the poem of social mysticism', while André Gide, a completely modern
critic who has left a deep mark on the present generation, observes
somewhere that it may nowadays cause surprise that he should refer with
admiration to _Germinal_, but it is a masterly book that fills him with
astonishment; he can hardly believe that it was written in French and
still less that it should have been written in any other language; it
seems that it should have been created in some international tongue.

The high place thus claimed for _Germinal_ will hardly seem exaggerated.
The book was produced when Zola had at length achieved the full mastery
of his art and before his hand had, as in his latest novels, begun to
lose its firm grasp. The subject lent itself, moreover, to his special
aptitude for presenting in vivid outline great human groups, and to his
special sympathy with the collective emotions and social aspirations of
such groups. We do not, as so often in Zola's work, become painfully
conscious that he is seeking to reproduce aspects of life with which
he is imperfectly acquainted, or fitting them into scientific formulas
which he has imperfectly understood. He shows a masterly grip of each
separate group, and each represents some essential element of the
whole; they are harmoniously balanced, and their mutual action and
reaction leads on inevitably to the splendid tragic dose, with yet its
great promise for the future. I will not here discuss Zola's literary
art (I have done so in my book of _Affirmations_); it is enough to say
that, though he was not a great master of style, Zola never again wrote
so finely as here.

A word may be added to explain how this translation fell to the lot of
one whose work has been in other fields. In 1893 the late A. Texeira de
Mattos was arranging for private issue a series of complete versions of
some of Zola's chief novels and offered to assign _Germinal_ to me. My
time was taken up with preliminary but as yet unfruitful preparation
for what I regarded as my own special task in life, and I felt that I
must not neglect the opportunity of spending my spare time in making
a modest addition to my income. My wife readily fell into the project
and agreed, on the understanding that we shared the proceeds, to act
as my amanuensis. So, in the little Cornish cottage over the sea we
then occupied, the evenings of the early months of 1894 were spent
over _Germinal_, I translating aloud, and she with swift efficient
untiring pen following, now and then bettering my English dialogue
with her pungent wit. In this way I was able to gain a more minute
insight into the details of Zola's work, and a more impressive vision
of the massive structure he here raised, than can easily be acquired
by the mere reader. That joint task has remained an abidingly pleasant
memory. It is, moreover, a satisfaction to me to know that I have
been responsible, however inadequately, for the only complete English
version of this wonderful book, 'a great fresco,' as Zola himself
called it, a great prose epic, as it has seemed to some, worthy to
compare with the great verse epics of old.



PART ONE



CHAPTER I


Over the open plain, beneath a starless sky as dark and thick as ink,
a man walked alone along the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou, a
straight paved road ten kilometres in length, intersecting the beetroot
fields. He could not even see the black soil before him, and only felt
the immense flat horizon by the gusts of March wind, squalls as strong
as on the sea, and frozen from sweeping leagues of marsh and naked
earth. No tree could be seen against the sky, and the road unrolled as
straight as a pier in the midst of the blinding spray of darkness.

The man had set out from Marchiennes about two o'clock. He walked with
long strides, shivering beneath his worn cotton jacket and corduroy
breeches. A small parcel tied in a check handkerchief troubled him
much, and he pressed it against his side, sometimes with one elbow,
sometimes with the other, so that he could slip to the bottom of his
pockets both the benumbed hands that bled beneath the lashes of the
wind. A single idea occupied his head--the empty head of a workman
without work and without lodging--the hope that the cold would be less
keen after sunrise. For an hour he went on thus, when on the left, two
kilometres from Montsou, he saw red flames, three fires burning in the
open air and apparently suspended. At first he hesitated, half afraid.
Then he could not resist the painful need to warm his hands for a
moment.

The steep road led downwards, and everything disappeared. The man saw
on his right a paling, a wall of coarse planks shutting in a line of
rails, while a grassy slope rose on the left surmounted by confused
gables, a vision of a village with low uniform roofs. He went on
some two hundred paces. Suddenly, at a bend in the road, the fires
reappeared close to him, though he could not understand how they
burnt so high in the dead sky, like smoky moons. But on the level
soil another sight had struck him. It was a heavy mass, a low pile
of buildings from which rose the silhouette of a factory chimney;
occasional gleams appeared from dirty windows, five or six melancholy
lanterns were hung outside to frames of blackened wood, which vaguely
outlined the profiles of gigantic stages; and from this fantastic
apparition, drowned in night and smoke, a single voice arose, the
thick, long breathing of a steam escapement that could not be seen.

Then the man recognized a pit. His despair returned. What was the
good? There would be no work. Instead of turning towards the buildings
he decided at last to ascend the pit bank, on which burnt in iron
baskets the three coal fires which gave light and warmth for work. The
labourers in the cutting must have been working late; they were still
throwing out the useless rubbish. Now he heard the landers push the
wagons on the stages. He could distinguish living shadows tipping over
the trams or tubs near each fire.

"Good day," he said, approaching one of the baskets.

Turning his back to the fire, the carman stood upright. He was an old
man, dressed in knitted violet wool with a rabbit-skin cap on his head;
while his horse, a great yellow horse, waited with the immobility of
stone while they emptied the six trains he drew. The workman employed
at the tipping-cradle, a red-haired lean fellow, did not hurry himself;
he pressed on the lever with a sleepy hand. And above, the wind grew
stronger--an icy north wind--and its great, regular breaths passed by
like the strokes of a scythe.

"Good day," replied the old man. There was silence. The man, who felt
that he was being looked at suspiciously, at once told his name.

"I am called Étienne Lantier. I am an engine-man. Any work here?"

The flames lit him up. He might be about twenty-one years of age, a
very dark, handsome man, who looked strong in spite of his thin limbs.

The carman, thus reassured, shook his head.

"Work for an engine-man? No, no! There were two came yesterday. There's
nothing."

A gust cut short their speech. Then Étienne asked, pointing to the
sombre pile of buildings at the foot of the platform:

"A pit, isn't it?"

The old man this time could not reply: he was strangled by a violent
cough. At last he expectorated, and his expectoration left a black
patch on the purple soil.

"Yes, a pit. The Voreux. There! The settlement is quite near."

In his turn, and with extended arm, he pointed out in the night the
village of which the young man had vaguely seen the roofs. But the six
trams were empty, and he followed them without cracking his whip, his
legs stiffened by rheumatism; while the great yellow horse went on of
itself, pulling heavily between the rails beneath a new gust which
bristled its coat.

The Voreux was now emerging from the gloom. Étienne, who forgot himself
before the stove, warming his poor bleeding hands, looked round and
could see each part of the pit: the shed tarred with siftings, the
pit-frame, the vast chamber of the winding machine, the square turret
of the exhaustion pump. This pit, piled up in the bottom of a hollow,
with its squat brick buildings, raising its chimney like a threatening
horn, seemed to him to have the evil air of a gluttonous beast
crouching there to devour the earth. While examining it, he thought of
himself, of his vagabond existence these eight days he had been seeking
work. He saw himself again at his workshop at the railway, delivering
a blow at his foreman, driven from Lille, driven from everywhere. On
Saturday he had arrived at Marchiennes, where they said that work was
to be had at the Forges, and there was nothing, neither at the Forges
nor at Sonneville's. He had been obliged to pass the Sunday hidden
beneath the wood of a cartwright's yard, from which the watchman had
just turned him out at two o'clock in the morning. He had nothing, not
a penny, not even a crust; what should he do, wandering along the roads
without aim, not knowing where to shelter himself from the wind? Yes,
it was certainly a pit; the occasional lanterns lighted up the square;
a door, suddenly opened, had enabled him to catch sight of the furnaces
in a clear light. He could explain even the escapement of the pump,
that thick, long breathing that went on without ceasing, and which
seemed to be the monster's congested respiration.

The workman, expanding his back at the tipping-cradle, had not even
lifted his eyes on Étienne, and the latter was about to pick up his
little bundle, which had fallen to the earth, when a spasm of coughing
announced the carman's return. Slowly he emerged from the darkness,
followed by the yellow horse drawing six more laden trams.

"Are there factories at Montsou?" asked the young man.

The old man expectorated, then replied in the wind:

"Oh, it isn't factories that are lacking. Should have seen it three or
four years ago. Everything was roaring then. There were not men enough;
there never were such wages. And now they are tightening their bellies
again. Nothing but misery in the country; every one is being sent away;
workshops closing one after the other. It is not the Emperor's fault,
perhaps; but why should he go and fight in America? without counting
that the beasts are dying from cholera, like the people."

Then, in short sentences and with broken breath, the two continued to
complain. Étienne narrated his vain wanderings of the past week: must
one, then, die of hunger? Soon the roads would be full of beggars.

"Yes," said the old man, "this will turn out badly, for God does not
allow so many Christians to be thrown on the street."

"We don't have meat every day."

"But if one had bread!"

"True, if one only had bread."

Their voices were lost, gusts of wind carrying away the words in a
melancholy howl.

"Here!" began the carman again very loudly, turning towards the south.
"Montsou is over there."

And stretching out his hand again he pointed out invisible spots in the
darkness as he named them. Below, at Montsou, the Fauvelle sugar works
were still going, but the Hoton sugar works had just been dismissing
hands; there were only the Dutilleul flour mill and the Bleuze rope
walk for mine-cables which kept up. Then, with a large gesture he
indicated the north half of the horizon: the Sonneville workshops had
not received two-thirds of their usual orders; only two of the three
blast furnaces of the Marchiennes Forges were alight; finally, at the
Gagebois glass works a strike was threatening, for there was talk of a
reduction of wages.

"I know, I know," replied the young man at each indication. "I have
been there."

"With us here things are going on at present," added the carman; "but
the pits have lowered their output. And see opposite, at the Victoire,
there are also only two batteries of coke furnaces alight."

He expectorated, and set out behind his sleepy horse, after harnessing
it to the empty trams.

Now Étienne could oversee the entire country. The darkness remained
profound, but the old man's hand had, as it were, filled it with great
miseries, which the young man unconsciously felt at this moment around
him everywhere in the limitless tract. Was it not a cry of famine
that the March wind rolled up across this naked plain? The squalls
were furious: they seemed to bring the death of labour, a famine
which would kill many men. And with wandering eyes he tried to pierce
shades, tormented at once by the desire and by the fear of seeing.
Everything was hidden in the unknown depths of the gloomy night. He
only perceived, very far off, the blast furnaces and the coke ovens.
The latter, with their hundreds of chimneys, planted obliquely, made
lines of red flame; while the two towers, more to the left, burnt blue
against the blank sky, like giant torches. It resembled a melancholy
conflagration. No other stars rose on the threatening horizon except
these nocturnal fires in a land of coal and iron.

"You belong to Belgium, perhaps?" began again the carman, who had
returned behind Étienne.

This time he only brought three trams. Those at least could be tipped
over; an accident which had happened to the cage, a broken screw nut,
would stop work for a good quarter of an hour. At the bottom of the pit
bank there was silence; the landers no longer shook the stages with a
prolonged vibration. One only heard from the pit the distant sound of a
hammer tapping on an iron plate.

"No, I come from the South," replied the young man.

The workman, after having emptied the trams, had seated himself on the
earth, glad of the accident, maintaining his savage silence; he had
simply lifted his large, dim eyes to the carman, as if annoyed by so
many words. The latter, indeed, did not usually talk at such length.
The unknown man's face must have pleased him that he should have been
taken by one of these itchings for confidence which sometimes make old
people talk aloud even when alone.

"I belong to Montsou," he said, "I am called Bonnemort."

"Is it a nickname?" asked Étienne, astonished.

The old man made a grimace of satisfaction and pointed to the Voreux:

"Yes, yes; they have pulled me three times out of that, torn to pieces,
once with all my hair scorched, once with my gizzard full of earth, and
another time with my belly swollen with water, like a frog. And then,
when they saw that nothing would kill me, they called me Bonnemort for
a joke."

His cheerfulness increased, like the creaking of an ill-greased pulley,
and ended by degenerating into a terrible spasm of coughing. The fire
basket now clearly lit up his large head, with its scanty white hair
and flat, livid face, spotted with bluish patches. He was short, with
an enormous neck, projecting calves and heels, and long arms, with
massive hands falling to his knees. For the rest, like his horse, which
stood immovable, without suffering from the wind, he seemed to be
made of stone; he had no appearance of feeling either the cold or the
gusts that whistled at his ears. When he coughed his throat was torn
by a deep rasping; he spat at the foot of the basket and the earth was
blackened.

Étienne looked at him and at the ground which he had thus stained.

"Have you been working long at the mine?"

Bonnemort flung open both arms.

"Long? I should think so. I was not eight when I went down into the
Voreux and I am now fifty-eight. Reckon that up! I have been everything
down there; at first trammer, then putter, when I had the strength to
wheel, then pikeman for eighteen years. Then, because of my cursed
legs, they put me into the earth cutting, to bank up and patch, until
they had to bring me up, because the doctor said I should stay there
for good. Then, after five years of that, they made me carman. Eh?
that's fine--fifty years at the mine, forty-five down below."

While he was speaking, fragments of burning coal, which now and then
fell from the basket, lit up his pale face with their red reflection.

"They tell me to rest," he went on, "but I'm not going to; I'm not such
a fool. I can get on for two years longer, to my sixtieth, so as to get
the pension of one hundred and eighty francs. If I wished them good
evening to-day they would give me a hundred and fifty at once. They are
cunning, the beggars. Besides, I am sound, except my legs. You see,
it's the water which has got under my skin through being always wet in
the cuttings. There are days when I can't move a paw without screaming."

A spasm of coughing interrupted him again.

"And that makes you cough so?" said Étienne.

But he vigorously shook his head. Then, when he could speak:

"No, no! I caught cold a month ago. I never used to cough; now I can't
get rid of it. And the queer thing is that I spit, that I spit----"

The rasping was again heard in his throat, followed by the black
expectoration.

"Is it blood?" asked Étienne, at last venturing to question him.

Bonnemort slowly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"It's coal. I've got enough in my carcass to warm me till I die. And
it's five years since I put a foot down below. I stored it up, it
seems, without knowing it; it keeps you alive!"

There was silence. The distant hammer struck regular blows in the
pit, and the wind passed by with its moan, like a cry of hunger and
weariness coming out of the depths of the night. Before the flames
which grew low, the old man went on in lower tones, chewing over again
his old recollections. Ah, certainly: it was not yesterday that he and
his began hammering at the seam. The family had worked for the Montsou
Mining Company since it started, and that was long ago, a hundred and
six years already. His grandfather, Guillaume Maheu, an urchin of
fifteen then, had found the rich coal at Réquillart, the Company's
first pit, an old abandoned pit to-day down below near the Fauvelle
sugar works. All the country knew it, and as a proof, the discovered
seam was called the Guillaume, after his grandfather. He had not known
him--a big fellow, it was said, very strong, who died of old age at
sixty. Then his father, Nicolas Maheu, called Le Rouge, when hardly
forty years of age had died in the pit, which was being excavated at
that time: a landslip, a complete slide, and the rock drank his blood
and swallowed his bones. Two of his uncles and his three brothers,
later on, also left their skins there. He, Vincent Maheu, who had come
out almost whole, except that his legs were rather shaky, was looked
upon as a knowing fellow. But what could one do? One must work; one
worked here from father to son, as one would work at anything else.
His son, Toussaint Maheu, was being worked to death there now, and his
grandsons, and all his people, who lived opposite in the settlement.
A hundred and six years of mining, the youngsters after the old ones,
for the same master. Eh? there were many bourgeois that could not give
their history so well!

"Anyhow, when one has got enough to eat!" murmured Étienne again.

"That is what I say. As long as one has bread to eat one can live."

Bonnemort was silent; and his eyes turned towards the settlement, where
lights were appearing one by one. Four o'clock struck in the Montsou
tower and the cold became keener.

"And is your company rich?" asked Étienne.

The old man shrugged his shoulders, and then let them fall as if
overwhelmed beneath an avalanche of gold.

"Ah, yes! Ah, yes! Not perhaps so rich as its neighbour, the Anzin
Company. But millions and millions all the same. They can't count it.
Nineteen pits, thirteen at work, the Voreux, the Victoire, Crévecoeur,
Mirou, St. Thomas, Madeleine, Feutry-Cantel, and still more, and six
for pumping or ventilation, like Réquillart. Ten thousand workers,
concessions reaching over sixty-seven communes, an output of five
thousand tons a day, a railway joining all the pits, and workshops, and
factories! Ah, yes! ah, yes! there's money there!"

The rolling of trams on the stages made the big yellow horse prick his
ears. The cage was evidently repaired below, and the landers had got to
work again. While he was harnessing his beast to re-descend, the carman
added gently, addressing himself to the horse:

"Won't do to chatter, lazy good-for-nothing! If Monsieur Hennebeau knew
how you waste your time!"

Étienne looked thoughtfully into the night. He asked:

"Then Monsieur Hennebeau owns the mine?"

"No," explained the old man, "Monsieur Hennebeau is only the general
manager; he is paid just the same as us."

With a gesture the young man pointed into the darkness.

"Who does it all belong to, then?"

But Bonnemort was for a moment so suffocated by a new and violent spasm
that he could not get his breath. Then, when he had expectorated and
wiped the black froth from his lips, he replied in the rising wind:

"Eh? all that belong to? Nobody knows. To people."

And with his hand he pointed in the darkness to a vague spot, an
unknown and remote place, inhabited by those people for whom the Maheus
had been hammering at the seam for more than a century. His voice
assumed a tone of religious awe; it was as if he were speaking of an
inaccessible tabernacle containing a sated and crouching god to whom
they had given all their flesh and whom they had never seen.

"At all events, if one can get enough bread to eat," repeated Étienne,
for the third time, without any apparent transition.

"Indeed, yes; if we could always get bread, it would be too good."

The horse had started; the carman, in his turn, disappeared, with the
trailing step of an invalid. Near the tipping-cradle the workman had
not stirred, gathered up in a ball, burying his chin between his knees,
with his great dim eyes fixed on emptiness.

When he had picked up his bundle, Étienne still remained at the same
spot. He felt the gusts freezing his back, while his chest was burning
before the large fire. Perhaps, all the same, it would be as well
to inquire at the pit, the old man might not know. Then he resigned
himself; he would accept any work. Where should he go, and what was to
become of him in this country famished for lack of work? Must he leave
his carcass behind a wall, like a strayed dog? But one doubt troubled
him, a fear of the Voreux in the middle of this flat plain, drowned in
so thick a night. At every gust the wind seemed to rise as if it blew
from an ever-broadening horizon. No dawn whitened the dead sky. The
blast furnaces alone flamed, and the coke ovens, making the darkness
redder without illuminating the unknown. And the Voreux, at the bottom
of its hole, with its posture as of an evil beast, continued to crunch,
breathing with a heavier and slower respiration, troubled by its
painful digestion of human flesh.



CHAPTER II


In the middle of the fields of wheat and beetroot, the
Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement slept beneath the black night. One could
vaguely distinguish four immense blocks of small houses, back to back,
barracks or hospital blocks, geometric and parallel, separated by three
large avenues which were divided into gardens of equal size. And over
the desert plain one heard only the moan of squalls through the broken
trellises of the enclosures.

In the Maheus' house, No. 16 in the second block, nothing was stirring.
The single room that occupied the first floor was drowned in a thick
darkness which seemed to overwhelm with its weight the sleep of the
beings whom one felt to be there in a mass, with open mouths, overcome
by weariness. In spite of the keen cold outside, there was a living
heat in the heavy air, that hot stuffiness of even the best kept
bedrooms, the smell of human cattle.

Four o'clock had struck from the clock in the room on the ground floor,
but nothing yet stirred; one heard the piping of slender respirations,
accompanied by two series of sonorous snores. And suddenly Catherine
got up. In her weariness she had, as usual, counted the four strokes
through the floor without the strength to arouse herself completely.
Then, throwing her legs from under the bedclothes, she felt about, at
last struck a match and lighted the candle. But she remained seated,
her head so heavy that it fell back between her shoulders, seeking to
return to the bolster.

Now the candle lighted up the room, a square room with two windows,
and filled with three beds. There could be seen a cupboard, a table,
and two old walnut chairs, whose smoky tone made hard, dark patches
against the walls, which were painted a light yellow. And nothing else,
only clothes hung to nails, a jug placed on the floor, and a red pan
which served as a basin. In the bed on the left, Zacharie, the eldest,
a youth of one-and-twenty, was asleep with his brother Jeanlin, who
had completed his eleventh year; in the right-hand bed two urchins,
Lénore and Henri, the first six years old, the second four, slept in
each other's arms, while Catherine shared the third bed with her sister
Alzire, so small for her nine years that Catherine would not have felt
her near her if it were not for the little invalid's humpback, which
pressed into her side. The glass door was open; one could perceive the
lobby of a landing, a sort of recess in which the father and the mother
occupied a fourth bed, against which they had been obliged to install
the cradle of the latest comer, Estelle, aged scarcely three months.

However, Catherine made a desperate effort. She stretched herself,
she fidgeted her two hands in the red hair which covered her forehead
and neck. Slender for her fifteen years, all that showed of her limbs
outside the narrow sheath of her chemise were her bluish feet, as it
were tattooed with coal, and her slight arms, the milky whiteness of
which contrasted with the sallow tint of her face, already spoilt by
constant washing with black soap. A final yawn opened her rather large
mouth with splendid teeth against the chlorotic pallor of her gums;
while her grey eyes were crying in her fight with sleep, with a look of
painful distress and weariness which seemed to spread over the whole of
her naked body.

But a growl came from the landing, and Maheu's thick voice stammered;

"Devil take it! It's time. Is it you lighting up, Catherine?"

"Yes, father; it has just struck downstairs."

"Quick then, lazy. If you had danced less on Sunday you would have woke
us earlier. A fine lazy life!"

And he went on grumbling, but sleep returned to him also. His
reproaches became confused, and were extinguished in fresh snoring.

The young girl, in her chemise, with her naked feet on the floor, moved
about in the room. As she passed by the bed of Henri and Lénore, she
replaced the coverlet which had slipped down. They did not wake, lost
in the strong sleep of childhood. Alzire, with open eyes, had turned to
take the warm place of her big sister without speaking.

"I say, now, Zacharie--and you, Jeanlin; I say, now!" repeated
Catherine, standing before her two brothers, who were still wallowing
with their noses in the bolster.

She had to seize the elder by the shoulder and shake him; then, while
he was muttering abuse, it came into her head to uncover them by
snatching away the sheet. That seemed funny to her, and she began to
laugh when she saw the two boys struggling with naked legs.

"Stupid, leave me alone," growled Zacharie in ill-temper, sitting up.
"I don't like tricks. Good Lord! Say it's time to get up?"

He was lean and ill-made, with a long face and a chin which showed
signs of a sprouting beard, yellow hair, and the anaemic pallor which
belonged to his whole family.

His shirt had rolled up to his belly, and he lowered it, not from
modesty but because he was not warm.

"It has struck downstairs," repeated Catherine; "come! up! father's
angry."

Jeanlin, who had rolled himself up, closed his eyes, saying: "Go and
hang yourself; I'm going to sleep."

She laughed again, the laugh of a good-natured girl. He was so small,
his limbs so thin, with enormous joints, enlarged by scrofula, that she
took him up in her arms. But he kicked about, his apish face, pale and
wrinkled, with its green eyes and great ears, grew pale with the rage
of weakness. He said nothing, he bit her right breast.

"Beastly fellow!" she murmured, keeping back a cry and putting him on
the floor.

Alzire was silent, with the sheet tucked under her chin, but she had
not gone to sleep again. With her intelligent invalid's eyes she
followed her sister and her two brothers, who were now dressing.
Another quarrel broke out around the pan, the boys hustled the young
girl because she was so long washing herself. Shirts flew about: and,
while still half-asleep, they eased themselves without shame, with
the tranquil satisfaction of a litter of puppies that have grown up
together. Catherine was ready first. She put on her miner's breeches,
then her canvas jacket, and fastened the blue cap on her knotted hair;
in these clean Monday clothes she had the appearance of a little man;
nothing remained to indicate her sex except the slight roll of her hips.

"When the old man comes back," said Zacharie, mischievously, "he'll
like to find the bed unmade. You know I shall tell him it's you."

The old man was the grandfather, Bonnemort, who, as he worked during
the night, slept by day, so that the bed was never cold; there was
always someone snoring there. Without replying, Catherine set herself
to arrange the bed-clothes and tuck them in. But during the last
moments sounds had been heard behind the wall in the next house. These
brick buildings, economically put up by the Company, were so thin that
the least breath could be heard through them. The inmates lived there,
elbow to elbow, from one end to the other; and no fact of family life
remained hidden, even from the youngsters. A heavy step had tramped up
the staircase; then there was a kind of soft fall, followed by a sigh
of satisfaction.

"Good!" said Catherine. "Levaque has gone down, and here is Bouteloup
come to join the Levaque woman."

Jeanlin grinned; even Alzire's eyes shone. Every morning they made fun
of the household of three next door, a pikeman who lodged a worker in
the cutting, an arrangement which gave the woman two men, one by night,
the other by day.

"Philoméne is coughing," began Catherine again, after listening.

She was speaking of the eldest Levaque, a big girl of nineteen, and
the mistress of Zacharie, by whom she had already had two children;
her chest was so delicate that she was only a sifter at the pit, never
having been able to work below.

"Pooh! Philoméne!" replied Zacharie, "she cares a lot, she's asleep.
It's hoggish to sleep till six."

He was putting on his breeches when an idea occurred to him, and he
opened the window. Outside in the darkness the settlement was awaking,
lights were dawning one by one between the laths of the shutters. And
there was another dispute: he leant out to watch if he could not see,
coming out of Pierron's opposite, the captain of the Voreux, who was
accused of sleeping with the Pierron woman, while his sister called to
him that since the day before the husband had taken day duty at the
pit-eye, and that certainly Dansaert could not have slept there that
night. Whilst the air entered in icy whiffs, both of them, becoming
angry, maintained the truth of their own information, until cries and
tears broke out. It was Estelle, in her cradle, vexed by the cold.

Maheu woke up suddenly. What had he got in his bones, then? Here
he was going to sleep again like a good-for-nothing. And he swore
so vigorously that the children became still. Zacharie and Jeanlin
finished washing with slow weariness. Alzire, with her large, open
eyes, continually stared. The two youngsters, Lénore and Henri, in each
other's arms, had not stirred, breathing in the same quiet way in spite
of the noise.

"Catherine, give me the candle," called out Maheu.

She finished buttoning her jacket, and carried the candle into the
closet, leaving her brothers to look for their clothes by what light
came through the door. Her father jumped out of bed. She did not stop,
but went downstairs in her coarse woollen stockings, feeling her way,
and lighted another candle in the parlour, to prepare the coffee. All
the sabots of the family were beneath the sideboard.

"Will you be still, vermin?" began Maheu, again, exasperated by
Estelle's cries which still went on.

He was short, like old Bonnemort, and resembled him, with his strong
head, his flat, livid face, beneath yellow hair cut very short. The
child screamed more than ever, frightened by those great knotted arms
which were held above her.

"Leave her alone; you know that she won't be still," said his wife,
stretching herself in the middle of the bed.

She also had just awakened and was complaining how disgusting it was
never to be able to finish the night. Could they not go away quietly?
Buried in the clothes she only showed her long face with large features
of a heavy beauty, already disfigured at thirty-nine by her life of
wretchedness and the seven children she had borne. With her eyes on
the ceiling she spoke slowly, while her man dressed himself. They
both ceased to hear the little one, who was strangling herself with
screaming.

"Eh? You know I haven't a penny and this is only Monday: still six days
before the fortnight's out. This can't go on. You, all of you, only
bring in nine francs. How do you expect me to go on? We are ten in the
house."

"Oh! nine francs!" exclaimed Maheu. "I and Zacharie three: that makes
six, Catherine and the father, two: that makes four: four and six, ten,
and Jeanlin one, that makes eleven."

"Yes, eleven, but there are Sundays and the off-days. Never more than
nine, you know."

He did not reply, being occupied in looking on the ground for his
leather belt. Then he said, on getting up:

"Mustn't complain. I am sound all the same. There's more than one at
forty-two who are put to the patching."

"Maybe, old man, but that does not give us bread. Where am I to get it
from, eh? Have you got nothing?"

"I've got two coppers."

"Keep them for a half-pint. Good Lord! where am I to get it from? Six
days! it will never end. We owe sixty francs to Maigrat, who turned me
out of doors day before yesterday. That won't prevent me from going to
see him again. But if he goes on refusing----"

And Maheude continued in her melancholy voice, without moving her head,
only closing her eyes now and then beneath the dim light of the candle.
She said the cupboard was empty, the little ones asking for bread and
butter, even the coffee was done, and the water caused colic, and
the long days passed in deceiving hunger with boiled cabbage leaves.
Little by little she had been obliged to raise her voice, for Estelle's
screams drowned her words. These cries became unbearable. Maheu seemed
all at once to hear them, and, in a fury, snatched the little one up
from the cradle and threw it on the mother's bed, stammering with rage:

"Here, take her; I'll do for her! Damn the child! It wants for nothing:
it sucks, and it complains louder than all the rest!"

Estelle began, in fact, to suck. Hidden beneath the clothes and soothed
by the warmth of the bed, her cries subsided into the greedy little
sound of her lips.

"Haven't the Piolaine people told you to go and see them?" asked the
father, after a period of silence.

The mother bit her lip with an air of discouraged doubt.

"Yes, they met me; they were carrying clothes for poor children. Yes,
I'll take Lénore and Henri to them this morning. If they only give me a
few pence!"

There was silence again.

Maheu was ready. He remained a moment motionless, then added, in his
hollow voice:

"What is it that you want? Let things be, and see about the soup. It's
no good talking, better be at work down below."

"True enough," replied Maheude. "Blow out the candle: I don't need to
see the colour of my thoughts."

He blew out the candle. Zacharie and Jeanlin were already going down;
he followed them, and the wooden staircase creaked beneath their heavy
feet, clad in wool. Behind them the closet and the room were again
dark. The children slept; even Alzire's eyelids were closed; but the
mother now remained with her eyes open in the darkness, while, pulling
at her breast, the pendent breast of an exhausted woman, Estelle was
purring like a kitten.

Down below, Catherine had at first occupied herself with the fire,
which was burning in the iron grate, flanked by two ovens. The Company
distributed every month, to each family, eight hectolitres of a hard
slaty coal, gathered in the passages. It burnt slowly, and the young
girl, who piled up the fire every night, only had to stir it in the
morning, adding a few fragments of soft coal, carefully picked out.
Then, after having placed a kettle on the grate, she sat down before
the sideboard.

It was a fairly large room, occupying all the ground floor, painted an
apple green, and of Flemish cleanliness, with its flags well washed and
covered with white sand. Besides the sideboard of varnished deal the
furniture consisted of a table and chairs of the same wood. Stuck on to
the walls were some violently-coloured prints, portraits of the Emperor
and the Empress, given by the Company, of soldiers and of saints
speckled with gold, contrasting crudely with the simple nudity of the
room; and there was no other ornament except a box of rose-coloured
pasteboard on the sideboard, and the clock with its daubed face and
loud tick-tack, which seemed to fill the emptiness of the place. Near
the staircase door another door led to the cellar. In spite of the
cleanliness, an odour of cooked onion, shut up since the night before,
poisoned the hot, heavy air, always laden with an acrid flavour of coal.

Catherine, in front of the sideboard, was reflecting. There only
remained the end of a loaf, cheese in fair abundance, but hardly a
morsel of butter; and she had to provide bread and butter for four. At
last she decided, cut the slices, took one and covered it with cheese,
spread another with butter, and stuck them together; that was the
"brick," the bread-and-butter sandwich taken to the pit every morning.
The four bricks were soon on the table, in a row, cut with severe
justice, from the big one for the father down to the little one for
Jeanlin.

Catherine, who appeared absorbed in her household duties, must,
however, have been thinking of the stories told by Zacharie about the
head captain and the Pierron woman, for she half opened the front door
and glanced outside. The wind was still whistling. There were numerous
spots of light on the low fronts of the settlement, from which arose a
vague tremor of awakening. Already doors were being closed, and black
files of workers passed into the night. It was stupid of her to get
cold, since the porter at the pit-eye was certainly asleep, waiting
to take his duties at six. Yet she remained and looked at the house
on the other side of the gardens. The door opened, and her curiosity
was aroused. But it could only be one of the little Pierrons, Lydie,
setting out for the pit.

The hissing sound of steam made her turn. She shut the door, and
hastened back; the water was boiling over, and putting out the fire.
There was no more coffee. She had to be content to add the water to
last night's dregs; then she sugared the coffee-pot with brown sugar.
At that moment her father and two brothers came downstairs.

"Faith!" exclaimed Zacharie, when he had put his nose into his bowl,
"here's something that won't get into our heads."

Maheu shrugged his shoulders with an air of resignation.

"Bah! It's hot! It's good all the same."

Jeanlin had gathered up the fragments of bread and made a sop of them.
After having drunk, Catherine finished by emptying the coffee-pot into
the tin-jacks. All four, standing up in the smoky light of the candle,
swallowed their meals hastily.

"Are we at the end?" said the father; "one would say we were people of
property."

But a voice came from the staircase, of which they had left the door
open. It was Maheude, who called out:

"Take all the bread: I have some vermicelli for the children."

"Yes, yes," replied Catherine.

She had piled up the fire, wedging the pot that held the remains of the
soup into a corner of the grate, so that the grandfather might find
it warm when he came in at six. Each took his sabots from under the
sideboard, passed the strings of his tin over his shoulder and placed
his brick at his back, between shirt and jacket. And they went out, the
men first, the girl, who came last, blowing out the candle and turning
the key. The house became dark again.

"Ah! we're off together," said a man who was closing the door of the
next house.

It was Levaque, with his son Bébert, an urchin of twelve, a great
friend of Jeanlin's. Catherine, in surprise, stifled a laugh in
Zacharie's ear:

"Why! Bouteloup didn't even wait until the husband had gone!"

Now the lights in the settlement were extinguished, and the last door
banged. All again fell asleep; the women and the little ones resuming
their slumber in the midst of wider beds. And from the extinguished
village to the roaring Voreux a slow filing of shadows took place
beneath the squalls, the departure of the colliers to their work,
bending their shoulders and incommoded by their arms, crossed on their
breasts, while the brick behind formed a hump on each back. Clothed
in their thin jackets they shivered with cold, but without hastening,
straggling along the road with the tramp of a flock.



CHAPTER III


Étienne had at last descended from the platform and entered the
Voreux; he spoke to men whom he met, asking if there was work to be
had, but all shook their heads, telling him to wait for the captain.
They left him free to roam through the ill-lighted buildings, full of
black holes, confusing with their complicated stories and rooms. After
having mounted a dark and half-destroyed staircase, he found himself
on a shaky foot-bridge; then he crossed the screening-shed, which
was plunged in such profound darkness that he walked with his hands
before him for protection. Suddenly two enormous yellow eyes pierced
the darkness in front of him. He was beneath the pit-frame in the
receiving-room, at the very mouth of the shaft.

A captain, Father Richomme, a big man with the face of a good-natured
gendarme, and with a straight grey moustache, was at that moment going
towards the receiver's office.

"Do they want a hand here for any kind of work?" asked Étienne again.

Richomme was about to say no, but he changed his mind and replied like
the others, as he went away:

"Wait for Monsieur Dansaert, the head captain."

Four lanterns were placed there, and the reflectors which threw all
the light on to the shaft vividly illuminated the iron rail, the
levers of the signals and bars, the joists of the guides along which
slid the two cages. The rest of the vast room, like the nave of a
church, was obscure, and peopled by great floating shadows. Only the
lamp-cabin shone at the far end, while in the receiver's office a small
lamp looked like a fading star. Work was about to be resumed, and on
the iron pavement there was a continual thunder, trams of coal being
wheeled without ceasing, while the landers, with their long, bent
backs, could be distinguished amid the movement of all these black and
noisy things, in perpetual agitation.

For a moment Étienne stood motionless, deafened and blinded. He felt
frozen by the currents of air which entered from every side. Then he
moved on a few paces, attracted by the winding engine, of which he
could now see the glistening steel and copper. It was twenty-five
metres beyond the shaft, in a loftier chamber, and placed so solidly on
its brick foundation that though it worked at full speed, with all its
four hundred horse power, the movement of its enormous crank, emerging
and plunging with oily softness, imparted no quiver to the walls.
The engine-man, standing at his post, listened to the ringing of the
signals, and his eye never moved from the indicator where the shaft
was figured, with its different levels, by a vertical groove traversed
by shot hanging to strings, which represented the cages; and at each
departure, when the machine was put in motion, the drums--two immense
wheels, five metres in radius, by means of which the two steel cables
were rolled and unrolled--turned with such rapidity that they became
like grey powder.

"Look out, there!" cried three landers, who were dragging an immense
ladder.

Étienne just escaped being crushed; his eyes were soon more at home,
and he watched the cables moving in the air, more than thirty metres
of steel ribbon, which flew up into the pit-frame where they passed
over pulleys to descend perpendicularly into the shaft, where they
were attached to the cages. An iron frame, like the high scaffolding
of a belfry, supported the pulleys. It was like the gliding of a bird,
noiseless, without a jar, this rapid flight, the continual come and
go of a thread of enormous weight, capable of lifting twelve thousand
kilograms at the rate of ten metres a second.

"Attention there, for God's sake!" cried again the landers, pushing
the ladder to the other side in order to climb to the left-hand rowel.
Slowly Étienne returned to the receiving-room. This giant flight over
his head took away his breath. Shivering in the currents of air, he
watched the movement of the cages, his ears deafened by the rumblings
of the trams. Near the shaft the signal was working, a heavy-levered
hammer drawn by a cord from below and allowed to strike against a
block. One blow to stop, two to go down, three to go up; it was
unceasing, like blows of a club dominating the tumult, accompanied by
the clear sound of the bell; while the lander, directing the work,
increased the noise still more by shouting orders to the engine-man
through a trumpet. The cages in the middle of the clear space appeared
and disappeared, were filled and emptied, without Étienne being at all
able to understand the complicated proceeding.

He only understood one thing well: the shaft swallowed men by mouthfuls
of twenty or thirty, and with so easy a gulp that it seemed to feel
nothing go down. Since four o'clock the descent of the workmen had
been going on. They came to the shed with naked feet and their lamps
in their hands, waiting in little groups until a sufficient number had
arrived. Without a sound, with the soft bound of a nocturnal beast,
the iron cage arose from the night, wedged itself on the bolts with
its four decks, each containing two trams full of coal. Landers on
different platforms took out the trams and replaced them by others,
either empty or already laden with trimmed wooden props; and it was
into the empty trams that the workmen crowded, five at a time, up to
forty. When they filled all the compartments, an order came from the
trumpet--a hollow indistinct roar--while the signal cord was pulled
four times from below, "ringing meat," to give warning of this burden
of human flesh. Then, after a slight leap, the cage plunged silently,
falling like a stone, only leaving behind it the vibrating flight of a
cable.

"Is it deep?" asked Étienne of a miner, who waited near him with a
sleepy air.

"Five hundred and fifty-four metres," replied the man. "But there are
four levels, the first at three hundred and twenty." Both were silent,
with their eyes on the returning cable. Étienne said again:

"And if it breaks?"

"Ah! if it breaks----"

The miner ended with a gesture. His turn had arrived; the cage had
reappeared with its easy, unfatigued movement. He squatted in it with
some comrades; it plunged down, then flew up again in less then four
minutes to swallow down another load of men. For half an hour the shaft
went on devouring in this fashion, with more or less greedy gulps,
according to the depth of the level to which the men went down, but
without stopping, always hungry, with its giant intestines capable
of digesting a nation. It went on filling and still filling, and the
darkness remained dead. The cage mounted from the void with the same
voracious silence.

Étienne was at last seized again by the same depression which he had
experienced on the pit bank. What was the good of persisting? This
head captain would send him off like the others. A vague fear suddenly
decided him: he went away, only stopping before the building of the
engine room. The wide-open door showed seven boilers with two furnaces.
In the midst of the white steam and the whistling of the escapes a
stoker was occupied in piling up one of the furnaces, the heat of
which could be felt as far as the threshold; and the young man was
approaching, glad of the warmth, when he met a new band of colliers who
had just arrived at the pit. It was the Maheu and Levaque set. When he
saw Catherine at the head, with her gentle boyish air, a superstitious
idea caused him to risk another question.

"I say there, mate! do they want a hand here for any kind of work?"

She looked at him surprised, rather frightened at this sudden voice
coming out of the shadow. But Maheu, behind her, had heard and replied,
talking with Étienne for a moment. No, no one was wanted. This poor
devil of a man who had lost his way here interested him. When he left
him he said to the others:

"Eh! one might easily be like that. Mustn't complain: every one hasn't
the chance to work himself to death."

The band entered and went straight to the shed, a vast hall roughly
boarded and surrounded by cupboards shut by padlocks. In the centre an
iron fireplace, a sort of closed stove without a door, glowed red and
was so stuffed with burning coal that fragments flew out and rolled
on to the trodden soil. The hall was only lighted by this stove,
from which sanguine reflections danced along the greasy woodwork up
to the ceiling, stained with black dust. As the Maheus went into the
heat there was a sound of laughter. Some thirty workmen were standing
upright with their backs to the fire, roasting themselves with an air
of enjoyment. Before going down, they all came here to get a little
warmth in their skins, so that they could face the dampness of the
pit. But this morning there was much amusement: they were joking
Mouquette, a putter girl of eighteen, whose enormous breasts and
flanks were bursting through her old jacket and breeches. She lived
at Réquillart with her father old Mouque, a groom, and Mouquet, her
brother, a lander; but their hours of work were not the same; she went
to the pit by herself, and in the middle of the wheatfields in summer,
or against a wall in winter, she took her pleasure with her lover of
the week. All in the mine had their turn; it was a perpetual round of
comrades without further consequences. One day, when reproached about
a Marchiennes nail-maker, she was furiously angry, exclaiming that she
respected herself far too much, that she would cut her arm off if any
one could boast that he had seen her with any one but a collier.

"It isn't that big Chaval now?" said a miner grinning; "did that
little fellow have you? he must have needed a ladder. I saw you behind
Réquillart, a token that he got up on a milestone."

"Well," replied Mouquette, in a good humour, "what's that to do with
you? You were not asked to push."

And this gross good-natured joke increased the laughter of the men, who
expanded their shoulders, half cooked by the stove, while she herself,
shaken by laughter, was displaying in the midst of them the indecency
of her costume, embarrassingly comical, with her masses of flesh
exaggerated almost to disease.

But the gaiety ceased; Mouquette told Maheu that Fleurance, big
Fleurance, would never come again; she had been found the night before
stiff in her bed; some said it was her heart, others that it was a pint
of gin she had drunk too quickly. And Maheu was in despair; another
piece of ill-luck; one of the best of his putters gone without any
chance of replacing her at once. He was working in a set; there were
four pikemen associated in his cutting, himself, Zacharie, Levaque, and
Chaval. If they had Catherine alone to wheel, the work would suffer.

Suddenly he called out:

"I have it! there was that man looking for work!"

At that moment Dansaert passed before the shed. Maheu told him the
story, and asked for his authority to engage the man; he emphasized the
desire of the Company to substitute men for women, as at Anzin. The
head captain smiled at first; for the scheme of excluding women from
the pit was not usually well received by the miners, who were troubled
about placing their daughters, and not much affected by questions of
morality and health. But after some hesitation he gave his permission,
reserving its ratification for Monsieur Négrel, the engineer.

"All very well!" exclaimed Zacharie; "the man must be away by this
time."

"No," said Catherine. "I saw him stop at the boilers."

"After him, then, lazy," cried Maheu.

The young girl ran forward; while a crowd of miners proceeded to the
shaft, yielding the fire to others.

Jeanlin, without waiting for his father, went also to take his lamp,
together with Bébert, a big, stupid boy, and Lydie, a small child of
ten. Mouquette, who was in front of them, called out in the black
passage they were dirty brats, and threatened to box their ears if they
pinched her.

Étienne was, in fact, in the boiler building, talking with a stoker,
who was charging the furnaces with coal. He felt very cold at the
thought of the night into which he must return. But he was deciding to
set out, when he felt a hand placed on his shoulder.

"Come," said Catherine; "there's something for you."

At first he could not understand. Then he felt a spasm of joy, and
vigorously squeezed the young girl's hands.

"Thanks, mate. Ah! you're a good chap, you are!"

She began to laugh, looking at him in the red light of the furnaces,
which lit them up. It amused her that he should take her for a boy,
still slender, with her knot of hair hidden beneath the cap. He also
was laughing, with satisfaction, and they remained, for a moment, both
laughing in each other's faces with radiant cheeks.

Maheu, squatting down before his box in the shed, was taking off
his sabots and his coarse woollen stockings. When Étienne arrived
everything was settled in three or four words: thirty sous a day,
hard work, but work that he would easily learn. The pikeman advised
him to keep his shoes, and lent him an old cap, a leather hat for the
protection of his skull, a precaution which the father and his children
disdained. The tools were taken out of the chest, where also was found
Fleurance's shovel. Then, when Maheu had shut up their sabots, their
stockings, as well as Étienne's bundle, he suddenly became impatient.

"What is that lazy Chaval up to? Another girl given a tumble on a pile
of stones? We are half an hour late to-day."

Zacharie and Levaque were quietly roasting their shoulders. The former
said at last:

"Is it Chaval you're waiting for? He came before us, and went down at
once."

"What! you knew that, and said nothing? Come, come, look sharp!"

Catherine, who was warming her hands, had to follow the band. Étienne
allowed her to pass, and went behind her. Again he journeyed through
a maze of staircases and obscure corridors in which their naked feet
produced the soft sound of old slippers. But the lamp-cabin was
glittering--a glass house, full of hooks in rows, holding hundreds of
Davy lamps, examined and washed the night before, and lighted like
candles in a mortuary chapel. At the barrier each workman took his own,
stamped with his number; then he examined it and shut it himself, while
the marker, seated at a table, inscribed on the registers the hour of
descent. Maheu had to intervene to obtain a lamp for his new putter,
and there was still another precaution: the workers defiled before an
examiner, who assured himself that all the lamps were properly closed.

"Golly! It's not warm here," murmured Catherine, shivering.

Étienne contented himself with nodding his head. He was in front of
the shaft, in the midst of a vast hall swept by currents of air.
He certainly considered himself brave, but he felt a disagreeable
emotion at his chest amid this thunder of trams, the hollow blows of
the signals, the stifled howling of the trumpet, the continual flight
of those cables, unrolled and rolled at full speed by the drums of
the engine. The cages rose and sank with the gliding movement of a
nocturnal beast, always engulfing men, whom the throat of the hole
seemed to drink. It was his turn now. He felt very cold, and preserved
a nervous silence which made Zacharie and Levaque grin; for both of
them disapproved of the hiring of this unknown man, especially Levaque,
who was offended that he had not been consulted. So Catherine was glad
to hear her father explain things to the young man.

"Look! above the cage there is a parachute with iron grapnels to catch
into the guides in case of breakage. Does it work? Oh, not always. Yes,
the shaft is divided into three compartments, closed by planking from
top to bottom; in the middle the cages, on the left the passage for the
ladders----"

But he interrupted himself to grumble, though taking care not to raise
his voice much.

"What are we stuck here for, blast it? What right have they to freeze
us in this way?"

The captain, Richomme, who was going down himself, with his naked lamp
fixed by a nail into the leather of his cap, heard him.

"Careful! Look out for ears," he murmured paternally, as an old miner
with a affectionate feeling for comrades. "Workmen must do what they
can. Hold on! here we are; get in with your fellows."

The cage, provided with iron bands and a small-meshed lattice work,
was in fact awaiting them on the bars. Maheu, Zacharie, and Catherine
slid into a tram below, and as all five had to enter, Étienne in
his turn went in, but the good places were taken; he had to squeeze
himself near the young girl, whose elbow pressed into his belly. His
lamp embarrassed him; they advised him to fasten it to the button-hole
of his jacket. Not hearing, he awkwardly kept it in his hand. The
embarkation continued, above and below, a confused packing of cattle.
They did not, however, set out. What, then, was happening? It seemed
to him that his impatience lasted for many minutes. At last he felt a
shock, and the light grew dim, everything around him seemed to fly,
while he experienced the dizzy anxiety of a fall contracting his
bowels. This lasted as long as he could see light, through the two
reception stories, in the midst of the whirling by of the scaffolding.
Then, having fallen into the blackness of the pit, he became stunned,
no longer having any clear perception of his sensations.

"Now we are off," said Maheu quietly.

They were all at their ease. He asked himself at times if he was going
up or down. Now and then, when the cage went straight without touching
the guides, there seemed to be no motion, but rough shocks were
afterwards produced, a sort of dancing amid the joists, which made him
fear a catastrophe. For the rest he could not distinguish the walls of
the shaft behind the lattice work, to which he pressed his face. The
lamps feebly lighted the mass of bodies at his feet. Only the captain's
naked light, in the neighbouring tram, shone like a lighthouse.

"This is four metres in diameter," continued Maheu, to instruct him.
"The tubbing wants doing over again, for the water comes in everywhere.
Stop! we are reaching the bottom: do you hear?"

Étienne was, in fact, now asking himself the meaning of this noise of
falling rain. A few large drops had at first sounded on the roof of
the cage, like the beginning of a shower, and now the rain increased,
streaming down, becoming at last a deluge. The roof must be full of
holes, for a thread of water was flowing on to his shoulder and wetting
him to the skin. The cold became icy and they were buried in black
humidity, when they passed through a sudden flash of light, the vision
of a cavern in which men were moving. But already they had fallen back
into darkness.

Maheu said:

"That is the first main level. We are at three hundred and twenty
metres. See the speed."

Raising his lamp he lighted up a joist of the guides which fled by like
a rail beneath a train going at full speed; and beyond, as before,
nothing could be seen. They passed three other levels in flashes of
light. The deafening rain continued to strike through the darkness.

"How deep it is!" murmured Étienne.

This fall seemed to last for hours. He was suffering for the cramped
position he had taken, not daring to move, and especially tortured by
Catherine's elbow. She did not speak a word; he only felt her against
him and it warmed him. When the cage at last stopped at the bottom, at
five hundred and fifty-four metres, he was astonished to learn that
the descent had lasted exactly one minute. But the noise of the bolts
fixing themselves, the sensation of solidity beneath, suddenly cheered
him; and he was joking when he said to Catherine:

"What have you got under your skin to be so warm? I've got your elbow
in my belly, sure enough."

Then she also burst out laughing. Stupid of him, still to take her for
a boy! Were his eyes out?

"It's in your eye that you've got my elbow!" she replied, in the midst
of a storm of laughter which the astonished young man could not account
for.

The cage voided its burden of workers, who crossed the pit-eye hall, a
chamber cut in the rock, vaulted with masonry, and lighted up by three
large lamps. Over the iron flooring the porters were violently rolling
laden trams. A cavernous odour exhaled from the walls, a freshness of
saltpetre in which mingled hot breaths from the neighbouring stable.
The openings of four galleries yawned here.

"This way," said Maheu to Étienne. "You're not there yet. It is still
two kilometres."

The workmen separated, and were lost in groups in the depths of these
black holes. Some fifteen went off into that on the left, and Étienne
walked last, behind Maheu, who was preceded by Catherine, Zacharie,
and Levaque. It was a large gallery for wagons, through a bed of solid
rock, which had only needed walling here and there. In single file they
still went on without a word, by the tiny flame of the lamps. The young
man stumbled at every step, and entangled his feet in the rails. For a
moment a hollow sound disturbed him, the sound of a distant storm, the
violence of which seemed to increase and to come from the bowels of the
earth. Was it the thunder of a landslip bringing on to their heads the
enormous mass which separated them from the light? A gleam pierced the
night, he felt the rock tremble, and when he had placed himself close
to the wall, like his comrades, he saw a large white horse close to his
face, harnessed to a train of wagons. On the first, and holding the
reins, was seated Bébert, while Jeanlin, with his hands leaning on the
edge of the last, was running barefooted behind.

They again began their walk. Farther on they reached crossways, where
two new galleries opened, and the band divided again, the workers
gradually entering all the stalls of the mine.

Now the wagon-gallery was constructed of wood; props of timber
supported the roof, and made for the crumbly rock a screen of
scaffolding, behind which one could see the plates of schist glimmering
with mica, and the coarse masses of dull, rough sandstone. Trains of
tubs, full or empty, continually passed, crossing each other with
their thunder, borne into the shadow by vague beasts trotting by like
phantoms. On the double way of a shunting line a long, black serpent
slept, a train at standstill, with a snorting horse, whose crupper
looked like a block fallen from the roof. Doors for ventilation were
slowly opening and shutting. And as they advanced the gallery became
more narrow and lower, and the roof irregular, forcing them to bend
their backs constantly.

Étienne struck his head hard; without his leather cap he would have
broken his skull. However, he attentively followed the slightest
gestures of Maheu, whose sombre profile was seen against the glimmer of
the lamps. None of the workmen knocked themselves; they evidently knew
each boss, each knot of wood or swelling in the rock. The young man
also suffered from the slippery soil, which became damper and damper.
At times he went through actual puddles, only revealed by the muddy
splash of his feet. But what especially astonished him were the sudden
changes of temperature. At the bottom of the shaft it was very chilly,
and in the wagon-gallery, through which all the air of the mine passed,
an icy breeze was blowing, with the violence of a tempest, between the
narrow walls. Afterwards, as they penetrated more deeply along other
passages which only received a meagre share of air, the wind fell and
the heat increased, a suffocating heat as heavy as lead.

Maheu had not again opened his mouth. He turned down another gallery to
the right, simply saying to Étienne, without looking round:

"The Guillaume seam."

It was the seam which contained their cutting. At the first step,
Étienne hurt his head and elbows. The sloping roof descended so low
that, for twenty or thirty metres at a time, he had to walk bent
double. The water came up to his ankles. After two hundred metres of
this, he saw Levaque, Zacharie, and Catherine disappear, as though they
had flown through a narrow fissure which was open in front of him.

"We must climb," said Maheu. "Fasten your lamp to a button-hole and
hang on to the wood." He himself disappeared, and Étienne had to follow
him. This chimney-passage left in the seam was reserved for miners, and
led to all the secondary passages. It was about the thickness of the
coal-bed, hardly sixty centimetres. Fortunately the young man was thin,
for, as he was still awkward, he hoisted himself up with a useless
expense of muscle, flattening his shoulders and hips, advancing by the
strength of his wrists, clinging to the planks. Fifteen metres higher
they came on the first secondary passage, but they had to continue, as
the cutting of Maheu and his mates was in the sixth passage, in hell,
as they said; every fifteen metres the passages were placed over each
other in never-ending succession through this cleft, which scraped back
and chest. Étienne groaned as if the weight of the rocks had pounded
his limbs; with torn hands and bruised legs, he also suffered from
lack of air, so that he seemed to feel the blood bursting through his
skin. He vaguely saw in one passage two squatting beasts, a big one
and a little one, pushing trams: they were Lydie and Mouquette already
at work. And he had still to climb the height of two cuttings! He was
blinded by sweat, and he despaired of catching up the others, whose
agile limbs he heard brushing against the rock with a long gliding
movement.

"Cheer up! here we are!" said Catherine's voice.

He had, in fact, arrived, and another voice cried from the bottom of
the cutting:

"Well, is this the way to treat people? I have two kilometres to walk
from Montsou and I am here first." It was Chaval, a tall, lean, bony
fellow of twenty-five, with strongly marked features, who was in a
bad humour at having to wait. When he saw Étienne he asked, with
contemptuous surprise:

"What's that?"

And when Maheu had told him the story he added between his teeth:

"These men are eating the bread of girls."

The two men exchanged a look, lighted up by one of those instinctive
hatreds which suddenly flame up. Étienne had felt the insult without
yet understanding it. There was silence, and they got to work. At last
all the seams were gradually filled, and the cuttings were in movement
at every level and at the end of every passage. The devouring shaft
had swallowed its daily ration of men: nearly seven hundred hands, who
were now at work in this giant ant-hill, everywhere making holes in the
earth, drilling it like an old worm-eaten piece of wood. And in the
middle of the heavy silence and crushing weight of the strata one could
hear, by placing one's ear to the rock, the movement of these human
insects at work, from the flight of the cable which moved the cage up
and down, to the biting of the tools cutting out the coal at the end
of the stalls. Étienne, on turning round, found himself again pressed
close to Catherine. But this time he caught a glimpse of the developing
curves of her breast: he suddenly understood the warmth which had
penetrated him.

"You are a girl, then!" he exclaimed, stupefied.

She replied in her cheerful way, without blushing:

"Of course. You've taken your time to find it out!"



CHAPTER IV


The four pikemen had spread themselves one above the other over the
whole face of the cutting. Separated by planks, hooked on to retain the
fallen coal, they each occupied about four metres of the seam, and this
seam was so thin, scarcely more than fifty centimetres thick at this
spot, that they seemed to be flattened between the roof and the wall,
dragging themselves along by their knees and elbows, and unable to turn
without crushing their shoulders. In order to attack the coal, they
had to lie on their sides with their necks twisted and arms raised,
brandishing, in a sloping direction, their short-handled picks.

Below there was, first, Zacharie; Levaque and Chaval were on the
stages above, and at the very top was Maheu. Each worked at the
slaty bed, which he dug out with blows of the pick; then he made
two vertical cuttings in the bed and detached the block by burying
an iron wedge in its upper part. The coal was rich; the block broke
and rolled in fragments along their bellies and thighs. When these
fragments, retained by the plank, had collected round them, the pikemen
disappeared, buried in the narrow cleft.

Maheu suffered most. At the top the temperature rose to thirty-five
degrees, and the air was stagnant, so that in the long run it became
lethal. In order to see, he had been obliged to fix his lamp to a
nail near his head, and this lamp, close to his skull, still further
heated his blood. But his torment was especially aggravated by the
moisture. The rock above him, a few centimetres from his face, streamed
with water, which fell in large continuous rapid drops with a sort
of obstinate rhythm, always at the same spot. It was vain for him to
twist his head or bend back his neck. They fell on his face, dropping
unceasingly. In a quarter of an hour he was soaked, and at the same
time covered with sweat, smoking as with the hot steam of a laundry.
This morning a drop beating upon his eye made him swear. He would not
leave his picking, he dealt great strokes which shook him violently
between the two rocks, like a fly caught between two leaves of a book
and in danger of being completely flattened.

Not a word was exchanged. They all hammered; one only heard these
irregular blows, which seemed veiled and remote. The sounds had a
sonorous hoarseness, without any echo in the dead air. And it seemed
that the darkness was an unknown blackness, thickened by the floating
coal dust, made heavy by the gas which weighed on the eyes. The wicks
of the lamps beneath their caps of metallic tissue only showed as
reddish points. One could distinguish nothing. The cutting opened out
above like a large chimney, flat and oblique, in which the soot of ten
years had amassed a profound night. Spectral figures were moving in it,
the gleams of light enabled one to catch a glimpse of a rounded hip, a
knotty arm, a vigorous head, besmeared as if for a crime. Sometimes,
blocks of coal shone suddenly as they became detached, illuminated by
a crystalline reflection. Then everything fell back into darkness,
pickaxes struck great hollow blows; one only heard panting chests, the
grunting of discomfort and weariness beneath the weight of the air and
the rain of the springs.

Zacharie, with arms weakened by a spree of the night before, soon
left his work on the pretence that more timbering was necessary. This
allowed him to forget himself in quiet whistling, his eyes vaguely
resting in the shade. Behind the pikemen nearly three metres of
the seam were clear, and they had not yet taken the precaution of
supporting the rock, having grown careless of danger and miserly of
their time.

"Here, you swell," cried the young man to Étienne, "hand up some wood."

Étienne, who was learning from Catherine how to manage his shovel, had
to raise the wood in the cutting. A small supply had remained over from
yesterday. It was usually sent down every morning ready cut to fit the
bed.

"Hurry up there, damn it!" shouted Zacharie, seeing the new putter
hoist himself up awkwardly in the midst of the coal, his arms
embarrassed by four pieces of oak.

He made a hole in the roof with his pickaxe, and then another in the
wall, and wedged in the two ends of the wood, which thus supported
the rock. In the afternoon the workers in the earth cutting took the
rubbish left at the bottom of the gallery by the pikemen, and cleared
out the exhausted section of the seam, in which they destroyed the
wood, being only careful about the lower and upper roads for the
haulage.

Maheu ceased to groan. At last he had detached his block, and he wiped
his streaming face on his sleeve. He was worried about what Zacharie
was doing behind him.

"Let it be," he said, "we will see after breakfast. Better go on
hewing, if we want to make up our share of trams."

"It's because it's sinking," replied the young man. "Look, there's a
crack. It may slip."

But the father shrugged his shoulders. Ah! nonsense! Slip! And if it
did, it would not be the first time; they would get out of it all
right. He grew angry at last, and sent his son to the front of the
cutting.

All of them, however, were now stretching themselves. Levaque, resting
on his back, was swearing as he examined his left thumb which had been
grazed by the fall of a piece of sandstone. Chaval had taken off his
shirt in a fury, and was working with bare chest and back for the sake
of coolness. They were already black with coal, soaked in a fine dust
diluted with sweat which ran down in streams and pools. Maheu first
began again to hammer, lower down, with his head level with the rock.
Now the drop struck his forehead so obstinately that he seemed to feel
it piercing a hole in the bone of his skull.

"You mustn't mind," explained Catherine to Étienne, "they are always
howling."

And like a good-natured girl she went on with her lesson. Every laden
tram arrived at the top in the same condition as it left the cutting,
marked with a special metal token so that the receiver might put it to
the reckoning of the stall. It was necessary, therefore, to be very
careful to fill it, and only to take clean coal, otherwise it was
refused at the receiving office.

The young man, whose eyes were now becoming accustomed to the darkness,
looked at her, still white with her chlorotic complexion, and he could
not have told her age; he thought she must be twelve, she seemed to him
so slight. However, he felt she must be older, with her boyish freedom,
a simple audacity which confused him a little; she did not please him:
he thought her too roguish with her pale Pierrot head, framed at the
temples by the cap. But what astonished him was the strength of this
child, a nervous strength which was blended with a good deal of skill.
She filled her tram faster than he could, with quick small regular
strokes of the shovel; she afterwards pushed it to the inclined way
with a single slow push, without a hitch, easily passing under the low
rocks. He tore himself to pieces, got off the rails, and was reduced to
despair.

It was certainly not a convenient road. It was sixty metres from the
cutting to the upbrow, and the passage, which the miners in the earth
cutting had not yet enlarged, was a mere tube with a very irregular
roof swollen by innumerable bosses; at certain spots the laden tram
could only just pass; the putter had to flatten himself, to push on his
knees, in order not to break his head, and besides this the wood was
already bending and yielding. One could see it broken in the middle in
long pale rents like an over-weak crutch. One had to be careful not to
graze oneself in these fractures; and beneath the slow crushing, which
caused the splitting of billets of oak as large as the thigh, one had
to glide almost on one's belly with a secret fear of suddenly hearing
one's back break.

"Again!" said Catherine, laughing.

Étienne's tram had gone off the rails at the most difficult spot. He
could not roll straight on these rails which sank in the damp earth,
and he swore, became angry, and fought furiously with the wheels, which
he could not get back into place in spite of exaggerated efforts.

"Wait a bit," said the young girl. "If you get angry it will never
go." Skilfully she had glided down and thrust her buttocks beneath the
tram, and by putting the weight on her loins she raised it and replaced
it. The weight was seven hundred kilograms. Surprised and ashamed, he
stammered excuses.

She was obliged to show him how to straddle his legs and brace his feet
against the planking on both sides of the gallery, in order to give
himself a more solid fulcrum. The body had to be bent, the arms made
stiff so as to push with all the muscles of the shoulders and hips.
During the journey he followed her and watched her proceed with tense
back, her fists so low that she seemed trotting on all fours, like one
of those dwarf beasts that perform at circuses. She sweated, panted,
her joints cracked, but without a complaint, with the indifference of
custom, as if it were the common wretchedness of all to live thus bent
double. But he could not succeed in doing as much; his shoes troubled
him, his body seemed broken by walking in this way with lowered
head. At the end of a few minutes the position became a torture, an
intolerable anguish, so painful that he got on his knees for a moment
to straighten himself and breathe.

Then at the upbrow there was more labour. She taught him to fill his
tram quickly. At the top and bottom of this inclined plane, which
served all the cuttings from one level to the other, there was a
trammer--the brakesman above, the receiver below. These scamps of
twelve to fifteen years shouted abominable words to each other, and
to warn them it was necessary to yell still more violently. Then, as
soon as there was an empty tram to send back, the receiver gave the
signal and the putter embarked her full tram, the weight of which made
the other ascend when the brakesman loosened his brake. Below, in the
bottom gallery, were formed the trains which the horses drew to the
shaft.

"Here, you confounded rascals," cried Catherine in the inclined way,
which was wood-lined, about a hundred metres long, and resounded like a
gigantic trumpet.

The trammers must have been resting, for neither of them replied. On
all the levels haulage had stopped. A shrill girl's voice said at last:

"One of them must be on Mouquette, sure enough!"

There was a roar of laughter, and the putters of the whole seam held
their sides.

"Who is that?" asked Étienne of Catherine.

The latter named little Lydie, a scamp who knew more than she ought,
and who pushed her tram as stoutly as a woman in spite of her doll's
arms. As to Mouquette, she was quite capable of being with both the
trammers at once.

But the voice of the receiver arose, shouting out to load. Doubtless a
captain was passing beneath. Haulage began again on the nine levels,
and one only heard the regular calls of the trammers, and the snorting
of the putters arriving at the upbrow and steaming like over-laden
mares. It was the element of bestiality which breathed in the pit, the
sudden desire of the male, when a miner met one of these girls on all
fours, with her flanks in the air and her hips bursting through her
boy's breeches.

And on each journey Étienne found again at the bottom the stuffiness
of the cutting, the hollow and broken cadence of the axes, the deep
painful sighs of the pikemen persisting in their work. All four were
naked, mixed up with the coal, soaked with black mud up to the cap.
At one moment it had been necessary to free Maheu, who was gasping,
and to remove the planks so that the coal could fall into the passage.
Zacharie and Levaque became enraged with the seam, which was now
hard, they said, and which would make the condition of their account
disastrous. Chaval turned, lying for a moment on his back, abusing
Étienne, whose presence decidedly exasperated him.

"A sort of worm; hasn't the strength of a girl! Are you going to fill
your tub? It's to spare your arms, eh? Damned if I don't keep back the
ten sous if you get us one refused!"

The young man avoided replying, too happy at present to have found
this convict's labour and accepting the brutal rule of the worker by
master worker. But he could no longer walk, his feet were bleeding, his
limbs torn by horrible cramps, his body confined in an iron girdle.
Fortunately it was ten o'clock, and the stall decided to have breakfast.

Maheu had a watch, but he did not even look at it. At the bottom of
this starless night he was never five minutes out. All put on their
shirts and jackets. Then, descending from the cutting they squatted
down, their elbows to their sides, their buttocks on their heels, in
that posture so habitual with miners that they keep it even when out
of the mine, without feeling the need of a stone or a beam to sit
on. And each, having taken out his brick, bit seriously at the thick
slice, uttering occasional words on the morning's work. Catherine,
who remained standing, at last joined Étienne, who had stretched
himself out farther along, across the rails, with his back against the
planking. There was a place there almost dry.

"You don't eat?" she said to him, with her mouth full and her brick in
her hand.

Then she remembered that this youth, wandering about at night without a
sou, perhaps had not a bit of bread.

"Will you share with me?"

And as he refused, declaring that he was not hungry, while his voice
trembled with the gnawing in his stomach, she went on cheerfully:

"Ah! if you are fastidious! But here, I've only bitten on that side.
I'll give you this."

She had already broken the bread and butter into two pieces. The young
man, taking his half, restrained himself from devouring it all at once,
and placed his arms on his thighs, so that she should not see how he
trembled. With her quiet air of good comradeship she lay beside him, at
full length on her stomach, with her chin in one hand, slowly eating
with the other. Their lamps, placed between them, lit up their faces.

Catherine looked at him a moment in silence. She must have found him
handsome, with his delicate face and black moustache. She vaguely
smiled with pleasure.

"Then you are an engine-driver, and they sent you away from your
railway. Why?"

"Because I struck my chief."

She remained stupefied, overwhelmed, with her hereditary ideas of
subordination and passive obedience.

"I ought to say that I had been drinking," he went on, and when I drink
I get mad--I could devour myself, and I could devour other people. Yes;
I can't swallow two small glasses without wanting to kill someone. Then
I am ill for two days."

"You mustn't drink," she said, seriously.

"Ah, don't be afraid. I know myself."

And he shook his head. He hated brandy with the hatred of the last
child of a race of drunkards, who suffered in his flesh from all those
ancestors, soaked and driven mad by alcohol to such a point that the
least drop had become poison to him.

"It is because of mother that I didn't like being turned into the
street," he said, after having swallowed a mouthful. "Mother is not
happy, and I used to send her a five-franc piece now and then."

"Where is she, then, your mother?"

"At Paris. Laundress, Rue de la Goutte-d'or."

There was silence. When he thought of these things a tremor dimmed his
dark eyes, the sudden anguish of the injury he brooded over in his fine
youthful strength. For a moment he remained with his looks buried in
the darkness of the mine; and at that depth, beneath the weight and
suffocation of the earth, he saw his childhood again, his mother still
beautiful and strong, forsaken by his father, then taken up again after
having married another man, living with the two men who ruined her,
rolling with them in the gutter in drink and ordure. It was down there,
he recalled the street, the details came back to him; the dirty linen
in the middle of the shop, the drunken carousals that made the house
stink, and the jaw-breaking blows.

"Now," he began again, in a slow voice, "I haven't even thirty sous to
make her presents with. She will die of misery, sure enough."

He shrugged his shoulders with despair, and again bit at his bread and
butter.

"Will you drink?" asked Catherine, uncorking her tin. "Oh, it's coffee,
it won't hurt you. One gets dry when one eats like that."

But he refused; it was quite enough to have taken half her bread.
However, she insisted good-naturedly, and said at last:

"Well, I will drink before you since you are so polite. Only you can't
refuse now, it would be rude."

She held out her tin to him. She had got on to her knees and he saw
her quite close to him, lit up by the two lamps. Why had he found her
ugly? Now that she was black, her face powdered with fine charcoal,
she seemed to him singularly charming. In this face surrounded by
shadow, the teeth in the broad mouth shone with whiteness, while the
eyes looked large and gleamed with a greenish reflection, like a cat's
eyes. A lock of red hair which had escaped from her cap tickled her ear
and made her laugh. She no longer seemed so young, she might be quite
fourteen.

"To please you," he said, drinking and giving her back the tin.

She swallowed a second mouthful and forced him to take one too, wishing
to share, she said; and that little tin that went from one mouth to
the other amused them. He suddenly asked himself if he should not take
her in his arms and kiss her lips. She had large lips of a pale rose
colour, made vivid by the coal, which tormented him with increasing
desire. But he did not dare, intimidated before her, only having known
girls on the streets at Lille of the lowest order, and not realizing
how one ought to behave with a work-girl still living with her family.

"You must be about fourteen then?" he asked, after having gone back to
his bread. She was astonished, almost angry.

"What? fourteen! But I am fifteen! It's true I'm not big. Girls don't
grow quick with us."

He went on questioning her and she told everything without boldness
or shame. For the rest she was not ignorant concerning man and woman,
although he felt that her body was virginal, with the virginity of a
child delayed in her sexual maturity by the environment of bad air and
weariness in which she lived. When he spoke of Mouquette, in order to
embarrass her, she told some horrible stories in a quiet voice, with
much amusement. Ah! she did some fine things! And as he asked if she
herself had no lovers, she replied jokingly that she did not wish to
vex her mother, but that it must happen some day. Her shoulders were
bent. She shivered a little from the coldness of her garments soaked in
sweat, with a gentle resigned air, ready to submit to things and men.

"People can find lovers when they all live together, can't they?"

"Sure enough!"

"And then it doesn't hurt any one. One doesn't tell the priest."

"Oh! the priest! I don't care for him! But there is the Black Man."

"What do you mean, the Black Man?"

"The old miner who comes back into the pit and wrings naughty girls'
necks."

He looked at her, afraid that she was making fun of him.

"You believe in those stupid things? Then you don't know anything."

"Yes, I do. I can read and write. That is useful among us; in father
and mother's time they learnt nothing."

She was certainly very charming. When she had finished her bread and
butter, he would take her and kiss her on her large rosy lips. It
was the resolution of timidity, a thought of violence which choked
his voice. These boy's clothes--this jacket and these breeches--on
the girl's flesh excited and troubled him. He had swallowed his last
mouthful. He drank from the tin and gave it back for her to empty. Now
the moment for action had come, and he cast a restless glance at the
miners farther on. But a shadow blocked the gallery.

For a moment Chaval stood and looked at them from afar. He came
forward, having assured himself that Maheu could not see him; and as
Catherine was seated on the earth he seized her by the shoulders, drew
her head back, and tranquilly crushed her mouth beneath a brutal kiss,
affecting not to notice Étienne. There was in that kiss an act of
possession, a sort of jealous resolution.

However, the young girl was offended.

"Let me go, do you hear?"

He kept hold of her head and looked into her eyes. His moustache and
small red beard flamed in his black face with its large eagle nose. He
let her go at last, and went away without speaking a word.

A shudder had frozen Étienne. It was stupid to have waited. He could
certainly not kiss her now, for she would, perhaps, think that he
wished to behave like the other. In his wounded vanity he experienced
real despair.

"Why did you lie?" he said, in a low voice. "He's your lover."

"But no, I swear," she cried. "There is not that between us. Sometimes
he likes a joke; he doesn't even belong here; it's six months since he
came from the Pas-de-Calais."

Both rose; work was about to be resumed. When she saw him so cold she
seemed annoyed. Doubtless she found him handsomer than the other; she
would have preferred him perhaps. The idea of some amiable, consoling
relationship disturbed her; and when the young man saw with surprise
that his lamp was burning blue with a large pale ring, she tried at
least to amuse him.

"Come, I will show you something," she said, in a friendly way.

When she had led him to the bottom of the cutting, she pointed out to
him a crevice in the coal. A slight bubbling escaped from it, a little
noise like the warbling of a bird.

"Put your hand there; you'll feel the wind. It's fire-damp."

He was surprised. Was that all? Was that the terrible thing which blew
everything up? She laughed, she said there was a good deal of it to-day
to make the flame of the lamps so blue.

"Now, if you've done chattering, lazy louts!" cried Maheu's rough voice.

Catherine and Étienne hastened to fill their trams, and pushed them
to the upbrow with stiffened back, crawling beneath the bossy roof of
the passage. Even after the second journey, the sweat ran off them and
their joints began to crack.

The pikemen had resumed work in the cutting. The men often shortened
their breakfast to avoid getting cold; and their bricks, eaten in this
way, far from the sun, with silent voracity, loaded their stomachs
with lead. Stretched on their sides they hammered more loudly, with
the one fixed idea of filling a large number of trams. Every thought
disappeared in this rage for gain which was so hard to earn. They no
longer felt the water which streamed on them and swelled their limbs,
the cramps of forced attitudes, the suffocation of the darkness in
which they grew pale, like plants put in a cellar. Yet, as the day
advanced, the air became more poisoned and heated with the smoke of
the lamps, with the pestilence of their breaths, with the asphyxia of
the fire-damp--blinding to the eyes like spiders' webs--which only
the aeration of the night could sweep away. At the bottom of their
mole-hill, beneath the weight of the earth, with no more breath in
their inflamed lungs, they went on hammering.



CHAPTER V


Maheu, without looking at his watch which he had left in his jacket,
stopped and said:

"One o'clock directly. Zacharie, is it done?"

The young man had just been at the planking. In the midst of his labour
he had been lying on his back, with dreamy eyes, thinking over a game
of hockey of the night before. He woke up and replied:

"Yes, it will do; we shall see to-morrow."

And he came back to take his place at the cutting. Levaque and Chaval
had also dropped their picks. They were all resting. They wiped their
faces on their naked arms and looked at the roof, in which slaty masses
were cracking. They only spoke about their work.

"Another chance," murmured Chaval, "of getting into loose earth. They
didn't take account of that in the bargain."

"Rascals!" growled Levaque. "They only want to bury us in it."

Zacharie began to laugh. He cared little for the work and the rest,
but it amused him to hear the Company abused. In his placid way Maheu
explained that the nature of the soil changed every twenty metres. One
must be just; they could not foresee everything. Then, when the two
others went on talking against the masters, he became restless, and
looked around him.

"Hush! that's enough."

"You're right," said Levaque, also lowering his voice; "it isn't
wholesome."

A morbid dread of spies haunted them, even at this depth, as if the
shareholders' coal, while still in the seam, might have ears.

"That won't prevent me," added Chaval loudly, in a defiant manner,
"from lodging a brick in the belly of that damned Dansaert, if he talks
to me as he did the other day. I won't prevent him, I won't, from
buying pretty girls with a white skin."

This time Zacharie burst out laughing. The head captain's love for
Pierronne was a constant joke in the pit. Even Catherine rested on her
shovel at the bottom of the cutting, holding her sides, and in a few
words told Étienne the joke; while Maheu became angry, seized by a fear
which he could not conceal.

"Will you hold your tongue, eh? Wait till you're alone if you want to
get into trouble."

He was still speaking when the sound of steps was heard in the upper
gallery. Almost immediately the engineer of the mine, little Négrel,
as the workmen called him among themselves, appeared at the top of the
cutting, accompanied by Dansaert, the head captain.

"Didn't I say so?" muttered Maheu. "There's always someone there,
rising out of the ground."

Paul Négrel, M. Hennebeau's nephew, was a young man of twenty-six,
refined and handsome, with curly hair and brown moustache. His pointed
nose and sparkling eyes gave him the air of an amiable ferret of
sceptical intelligence, which changed into an abrupt authoritative
manner in his relations with the workmen. He was dressed like them, and
like them smeared with coal; to make them respect him he exhibited a
dare-devil courage, passing through the most difficult spots and always
first when landslips or fire-damp explosions occurred.

"Here we are, are we not, Dansaert?" he asked.

The head captain, a coarse-faced Belgian, with a large sensual nose,
replied with exaggerated politeness:

"Yes, Monsieur Négrel. Here is the man who was taken on this morning."

Both of them had slid down into the middle of the cutting. They made
Étienne come up. The engineer raised his lamp and looked at him without
asking any questions.

"Good," he said at last. "But I don't like unknown men to be picked up
from the road. Don't do it again."

He did not listen to the explanations given to him, the necessities of
work, the desire to replace women by men for the haulage. He had begun
to examine the roof while the pikemen had taken up their picks again.
Suddenly he called out:

"I say there, Maheu; have you no care for life? By heavens! you will
all be buried here!"

"Oh! it's solid," replied the workman tranquilly.

"What! solid! but the rock is giving already, and you are planting
props at more than two metres, as if you grudged it! Ah! you are all
alike. You will let your skull be flattened rather than leave the seam
to give the necessary time to the timbering! I must ask you to prop
that immediately. Double the timbering--do you understand?"

And in face of the unwillingness of the miners who disputed the point,
saying that they were good judges of their safety, he became angry.

"Go along! when your heads are smashed, is it you who will have to bear
the consequences? Not at all! it will be the Company which will have to
pay you pensions, you or your wives. I tell you again that we know you;
in order to get two extra trams by evening you would sell your skins."

Maheu, in spite of the anger which was gradually mastering him, still
answered steadily:

"If they paid us enough we should prop it better."

The engineer shrugged his shoulders without replying. He had descended
the cutting, and only said in conclusion, from below:

"You have an hour. Set to work, all of you; and I give you notice that
the stall is fined three francs."

A low growl from the pikemen greeted these words. The force of the
system alone restrained them, that military system which, from the
trammer to the head captain, ground one beneath the other. Chaval
and Levaque, however, made a furious gesture, while Maheu restrained
them by a glance, and Zacharie shrugged his shoulders chaffingly. But
Étienne was, perhaps, most affected. Since he had found himself at the
bottom of this hell a slow rebellion was rising within him. He looked
at the resigned Catherine, with her lowered back. Was it possible to
kill oneself at this hard toil, in this deadly darkness, and not even
to gain the few pence to buy one's daily bread?

However, Négrel went off with Dansaert, who was content to approve by
a continual movement of his head. And their voices again rose; they
had just stopped once more, and were examining the timbering in the
gallery, which the pikemen were obliged to look after for a length of
ten metres behind the cutting.

"Didn't I tell you that they care nothing?" cried the engineer. "And
you! why, in the devil's name, don't you watch them?"

"But I do--I do," stammered the head captain. "One gets tired of
repeating things."

Négrel called loudly:

"Maheu! Maheu!"

They all came down. He went on:

"Do you see that? Will that hold? It's a twopenny-halfpenny
construction! Here is a beam which the posts don't carry already, it
was done so hastily. By Jove! I understand how it is that the mending
costs us so much. It'll do, won't it? if it lasts as long as you have
the care of it; and then it may go smash, and the Company is obliged to
have an army of repairers. Look at it down there; it is mere botching!"

Chaval wished to speak, but he silenced him.

"No! I know what you are going to say. Let them pay you more, eh? Very
well! I warn you that you will force the managers to do something: they
will pay you the planking separately, and proportionately reduce the
price of the trams. We shall see if you will gain that way! Meanwhile,
prop that over again, at once; I shall pass to-morrow."

Amid the dismay caused by this threat he went away. Dansaert, who had
been so humble, remained behind a few moments, to say brutally to the
men:

"You get me into a row, you here. I'll give you something more than
three francs fine, I will. Look out!"

Then, when he had gone, Maheu broke out in his turn:

"By God! what's fair is fair! I like people to be calm, because that's
the only way of getting along, but at last they make you mad. Did you
hear? The tram lowered, and the planking separately! Another way of
paying us less. By God it is!"

He looked for someone upon whom to vent his anger, and saw Catherine
and Étienne swinging their arms.

"Will you just fetch me some wood! What does it matter to you? I'll put
my foot into you somewhere!"

Étienne went to carry it without rancour for this rough speech, so
furious himself against the masters that he thought the miners too
good-natured. As for the others, Levaque and Chaval had found relief in
strong language. All of them, even Zacharie, were timbering furiously.
For nearly half an hour one only heard the creaking of wood wedged in
by blows of the hammer.

They no longer spoke, they snorted, became enraged with the rock, which
they would have hustled and driven back by the force of their shoulders
if they had been able.

"That's enough," said Maheu at last, worn out with anger and fatigue.
"An hour and a half! A fine day's work! We shan't get fifty sous! I'm
off. This disgusts me."

Though there was still half an hour of work left he dressed himself.
The others imitated him. The mere sight of the cutting enraged them. As
the putter had gone back to the haulage they called her, irritated at
her zeal: let the coal take care of itself. And the six, their tools
under their arms, set out to walk the two kilometres back, returning to
the shaft by the road of the morning.

At the chimney Catherine and Étienne were delayed while the pikemen
slid down. They met little Lydie, who stopped in a gallery to let them
pass, and told them of the disappearance of Mouquette, whose nose had
been bleeding so much that she had been away an hour, bathing her face
somewhere, no one knew where. Then, when they left her, the child began
again to push her tram, weary and muddy, stiffening her insect-like
arms and legs like a lean black ant struggling with a load that was too
heavy for it. They let themselves down on their backs, flattening their
shoulders for fear of scratching the skin on their foreheads, and they
walked so close to the polished rock at the back of the stalls that
they were obliged from time to time to hold on to the woodwork, so that
their backsides should not catch fire, as they said jokingly.

Below they found themselves alone. Red stars disappeared afar at a
bend in the passage. Their cheerfulness fell, they began to walk with
the heavy step of fatigue, she in front, he behind. Their lamps were
blackened. He could scarcely see her, drowned in a sort of smoky mist;
and the idea that she was a girl disturbed him because he felt that it
was stupid not to embrace her, and yet the recollection of the other
man prevented him. Certainly she had lied to him: the other was her
lover, they lay together on all those heaps of slaty coal, for she had
a loose woman's gait. He sulked without reason, as if she had deceived
him. She, however, every moment turned round, warned him of obstacles,
and seemed to invite him to be affectionate. They were so lost here,
it would have been so easy to laugh together like good friends! At
last they entered the large haulage gallery; it was a relief to the
indecision from which he was suffering; while she once more had a
saddened look, the regret for a happiness which they would not find
again.

Now the subterranean life rumbled around them with a continual passing
of captains, the come and go of the trams drawn by trotting horses.
Lamps starred the night everywhere. They had to efface themselves
against the rock to leave the path free to shadowy men and beasts,
whose breath came against their faces. Jeanlin, running barefooted
behind his tram, cried out some naughtiness to them which they could
not hear amid the thunder of the wheels. They still went on, she now
silent, he not recognizing the turnings and roads of the morning, and
fancying that she was leading him deeper and deeper into the earth; and
what specially troubled him was the cold, an increasing cold which he
had felt on emerging from the cutting, and which caused him to shiver
the more the nearer they approached the shaft. Between the narrow walls
the column of air now blew like a tempest. He despaired of ever coming
to the end, when suddenly they found themselves in the pit-eye hall.

Chaval cast a sidelong glance at them, his mouth drawn with suspicion.
The others were there, covered with sweat in the icy current, silent
like himself, swallowing their grunts of rage. They had arrived
too soon and could not be taken to the top for half an hour, more
especially since some complicated manoeuvres were going on for
lowering a horse. The porters were still rolling the trams with the
deafening sound of old iron in movement, and the cages were flying up,
disappearing in the rain which fell from the black hole. Below, the
sump, a cesspool ten metres deep, filled with this streaming water,
also exhaled its muddy moisture. Men were constantly moving around the
shaft, pulling the signal cords, pressing on the arms of levers, in the
midst of this spray in which their garments were soaked. The reddish
light of three open lamps cut out great moving shadows and gave to this
subterranean hall the air of a villainous cavern, some bandits' forge
near a torrent.

Maheu made one last effort. He approached Pierron, who had gone on duty
at six o'clock.

"Here! you might as well let us go up."

But the porter, a handsome fellow with strong limbs and a gentle face,
refused with a frightened gesture.

"Impossible: ask the captain. They would fine me."

Fresh growls were stifled. Catherine bent forward and said in Étienne's
ear:

"Come and see the stable, then. That's a comfortable place!"

And they had to escape without being seen, for it was forbidden to go
there. It was on the left, at the end of a short gallery. Twenty-five
metres in length and nearly four high, cut in the rock and vaulted with
bricks, it could contain twenty horses. It was, in fact, comfortable
there. There was a pleasant warmth of living beasts, the good odour of
fresh and well-kept litter. The only lamp threw out the calm rays of a
night-light. There were horses there, at rest, who turned their heads,
with their large infantine eyes, then went back to their hay, without
haste, like fat well-kept workers, loved by everybody.

But as Catherine was reading aloud their names, written on zinc plates
over the mangers, she uttered a slight cry, seeing something suddenly
rise before her. It was Mouquette, who emerged in fright from a pile of
straw in which she was sleeping. On Monday, when she was overtired with
her Sunday's spree, she gave herself a violent blow on the nose, and
left her cutting under the pretence of seeking water, to bury herself
here with the horses in the warm litter. Her father, being weak with
her, allowed it, at the risk of getting into trouble.

Just then, Mouque, the father, entered, a short, bald, worn-out looking
man, but still stout, which is rare in an old miner of fifty. Since he
had been made a groom, he chewed to such a degree that his gums bled in
his black mouth. On seeing the two with his daughter, he became angry.

"What are you up to there, all of you? Come! up! The jades, bringing
a man here! It's a fine thing to come and do your dirty tricks in my
straw."

Mouquette thought it funny, and held her sides. But Étienne, feeling
awkward, moved away, while Catherine smiled at him. As all three
returned to the pit-eye, Bébert and Jeanlin arrived there also with a
train of tubs. There was a stoppage for the manoeuvring of the cages,
and the young girl approached their horse, caressed it with her hand,
and talked about it to her companion. It was Bataille, the _doyen_
of the mine, a white horse who had lived below for ten years. These
ten years he had lived in this hole, occupying the same corner of the
stable, doing the same task along the black galleries without ever
seeing daylight. Very fat, with shining coat and a good-natured air,
he seemed to lead the existence of a sage, sheltered from the evils of
the world above. In this darkness, too, he had become very cunning.
The passage in which he worked had grown so familiar to him that he
could open the ventilation doors with his head, and he lowered himself
to avoid knocks at the narrow spots. Without doubt, also, he counted
his turns, for when he had made the regulation number of journeys he
refused to do any more, and had to be led back to his manger. Now
that old age was coming on, his cat's eyes were sometimes dimmed with
melancholy. Perhaps he vaguely saw again, in the depths of his obscure
dreams, the mill at which he was born, near Marchiennes, a mill placed
on the edge of the Scarpe, surrounded by large fields over which the
wind always blew. Something burnt in the air--an enormous lamp, the
exact appearance of which escaped his beast's memory--and he stood with
lowered head, trembling on his old feet, making useless efforts to
recall the sun.

Meanwhile, the manoeuvres went on in the shaft, the signal hammer had
struck four blows, and the horse was being lowered; there was always
excitement at such a time, for it sometimes happened that the beast
was seized by such terror that it was landed dead. When put into a net
at the top it struggled fiercely; then, when it felt the ground no
longer beneath it, it remained as if petrified and disappeared without
a quiver of the skin, with enlarged and fixed eyes. This animal being
too big to pass between the guides, it had been necessary, when hooking
it beneath the cage, to pull down the head and attach it to the flanks.
The descent lasted nearly three minutes, the engine being slowed as
a precaution. Below, the excitement was increasing. What then? Was
he going to be left on the road, hanging in the blackness? At last
he appeared in his stony immobility, his eye fixed and dilated with
terror. It was a bay horse hardly three years of age, called Trompette.

"Attention!" cried Father Mouque, whose duty it was to receive it.
"Bring him here, don't undo him yet."

Trompette was soon placed on the metal floor in a mass. Still he did
not move: he seemed in a nightmare in this obscure infinite hole, this
deep hall echoing with tumult. They were beginning to unfasten him
when Bataille, who had just been unharnessed, approached and stretched
out his neck to smell this companion who lay on the earth. The workmen
jokingly enlarged the circle. Well! what pleasant odour did he find in
him? But Bataille, deaf to mockery, became animated. He probably found
in him the good odour of the open air, the forgotten odour of the sun
on the grass. And he suddenly broke out into a sonorous neigh, full of
musical gladness, in which there seemed to be the emotion of a sob. It
was a greeting, the joy of those ancient things of which a gust had
reached him, the melancholy of one more prisoner who would not ascend
again until death.

"Ah! that animal Bataille!" shouted the workmen, amused at the antics
of their favourite, "he's talking with his mate."

Trompette was unbound, but still did not move. He remained on his
flank, as if he still felt the net restraining him, garrotted by fear.
At last they got him up with a lash of the whip, dazed and his limbs
quivering. And Father Mouque led away the two beasts, fraternizing
together.

"Here! Is it ready yet?" asked Maheu.

It was necessary to clear the cages, and besides it was yet ten
minutes before the hour for ascending. Little by little the stalls
emptied, and the miners returned from all the galleries. There were
already some fifty men there, damp and shivering, their inflamed
chests panting on every side. Pierron, in spite of his mawkish face,
struck his daughter Lydie, because she had left the cutting before
time. Zacharie slyly pinched Mouquette, with a joke about warming
himself. But the discontent increased; Chaval and Levaque narrated the
engineer's threat, the tram to be lowered in price, and the planking
paid separately. And exclamations greeted this scheme, a rebellion was
germinating in this little corner, nearly six hundred metres beneath
the earth. Soon they could not restrain their voices; these men, soiled
by coal, and frozen by the delay, accused the Company of killing half
their workers at the bottom, and starving the other half to death.
Étienne listened, trembling.

"Quick, quick!" repeated the captain, Richomme, to the porters.

He hastened the preparations for the ascent, not wishing to be hard,
pretending not to hear. However, the murmurs became so loud that he
was obliged to notice them. They were calling out behind him that this
would not last always, and that one fine day the whole affair would be
smashed up.

"You're sensible," he said to Maheu; "make them hold their tongues.
When one hasn't got power one must have sense."

But Maheu, who was getting calm, and had at last become anxious, did
not interfere. Suddenly the voices fell; Négrel and Dansaert, returning
from their inspection, entered from a gallery, both of them sweating.
The habit of discipline made the men stand in rows while the engineer
passed through the group without a word. He got into one tram, and the
head captain into another, the signal was sounded five times, ringing
for the butcher's meat, as they said for the masters; and the cage flew
up in the air in the midst of a gloomy silence.



CHAPTER VI


As he ascended in the cage heaped up with four others, Étienne resolved
to continue his famished course along the roads. One might as well
die at once as go down to the bottom of that hell, where it was not
even possible to earn one's bread. Catherine, in the tram above him,
was no longer at his side with her pleasant enervating warmth; and he
preferred to avoid foolish thoughts and to go away, for with his wider
education he felt nothing of the resignation of this flock; he would
end by strangling one of the masters.

Suddenly he was blinded. The ascent had been so rapid that he was
stunned by the daylight, and his eyelids quivered in the brightness to
which he had already grown unaccustomed. It was none the less a relief
to him to feel the cage settle on to the bars. A lander opened the
door, and a flood of workmen leapt out of the trams.

"I say, Mouquet," whispered Zacharie in the lander's ear, "are we off
to the Volcan to-night?"

The Volcan was a café-concert at Montsou. Mouquet winked his left eye
with a silent laugh which made his jaws gape. Short and stout like his
father, he had the impudent face of a fellow who devours everything
without care for the morrow. Just then Mouquette came out in her turn,
and he gave her a formidable smack on the flank by way of fraternal
tenderness.

Étienne hardly recognized the lofty nave of the receiving-hall, which
had before looked imposing in the ambiguous light of the lanterns.
It was simply bare and dirty; a dull light entered through the dusty
windows. The engine alone shone at the end with its copper; the
well-greased steel cables moved like ribbons soaked in ink, and the
pulleys above, the enormous scaffold which supported them, the cages,
the trams, all this prodigality of metal made the hall look sombre with
their hard grey tones of old iron. Without ceasing, the rumbling of the
wheels shook the metal floor; while from the coal thus put in motion
there arose a fine charcoal powder which powdered black the soil, the
walls, even the joists of the steeple.

But Chaval, after glancing at the table of counters in the receiver's
little glass office, came back furious. He had discovered that two
of their trams had been rejected, one because it did not contain the
regulation amount, the other because the coal was not clean.

"This finishes the day," he cried. "Twenty sous less again! This is
because we take on lazy rascals who use their arms as a pig does his
tail!"

And his sidelong look at Étienne completed his thought.

The latter was tempted to reply by a blow. Then he asked himself what
would be the use since he was going away. This decided him absolutely.

"It's not possible to do it right the first day," said Maheu, to
restore peace; "he'll do better to-morrow."

They were all none the less soured, and disturbed by the need to
quarrel. As they passed to the lamp cabin to give up their lamps,
Levaque began to abuse the lamp-man, whom he accused of not properly
cleaning his lamp. They only slackened down a little in the shed where
the fire was still burning. It had even been too heavily piled up, for
the stove was red and the vast room, without a window, seemed to be
in flames, to such a degree did the reflection make bloody the walls.
And there were grunts of joy, all the backs were roasted at a distance
till they smoked like soup. When their flanks were burning they cooked
their bellies. Mouquette had tranquilly let down her breeches to dry
her chemise. Some lads were making fun of her; they burst out laughing
because she suddenly showed them her posterior, a gesture which in her
was the extreme expression of contempt.

"I'm off," said Chaval, who had shut up his tools in his box.

No one moved. Only Mouquette hastened, and went out behind him on the
pretext that they were both going back to Montsou. But the others went
on joking; they knew that he would have no more to do with her.

Catherine, however, who seemed preoccupied, was speaking in a low voice
to her father. The latter was surprised; then he agreed with a nod; and
calling Étienne to give him back his bundle:

"Listen," he said: "you haven't a sou; you will have time to starve
before the fortnight's out. Shall I try and get you credit somewhere?"

The young man stood for a moment confused. He had been just about to
claim his thirty sous and go. But shame restrained him before the
young girl. She looked at him fixedly; perhaps she would think he was
shirking the work.

"You know I can promise you nothing," Maheu went on. "They can but
refuse us."

Then Étienne consented. They would refuse. Besides, it would bind him
to nothing, he could still go away after having eaten something. Then
he was dissatisfied at not having refused, seeing Catherine's joy, a
pretty laugh, a look of friendship, happy at having been useful to him.
What was the good of it all?

When they had put on their sabots and shut their boxes, the Maheus left
the shed, following their comrades, who were leaving one by one after
they had warmed themselves. Étienne went behind. Levaque and his urchin
joined the band. But as they crossed the screening place a scene of
violence stopped them.

It was in a vast shed, with beams blackened by the powder, and large
shutters, through which blew a constant current of air. The coal trams
arrived straight from the receiving-room, and were then overturned by
the tipping-cradles on to hoppers, long iron slides; and to right and
to left of these the screeners, mounted on steps and armed with shovels
and rakes, separated the stone and swept together the clean coal, which
afterwards fell through funnels into the railway wagons beneath the
shed.

Philoméne Levaque was there, thin and pale, with the sheep-like face of
a girl who spat blood. With head protected by a fragment of blue wool,
and hands and arms black to the elbows, she was screening beneath an
old witch, the mother of Pierronne, the Brulé, as she was called, with
terrible owl's eyes, and a mouth drawn in like a miser's purse. They
were abusing each other, the young one accusing the elder of raking her
stones so that she could not get a basketful in ten minutes. They were
paid by the basket, and these quarrels were constantly arising. Hair
was flying, and hands were making black marks on red faces.

"Give it her bloody well!" cried Zacharie, from above, to his mistress.

All the screeners laughed. But the Brulé turned snappishly on the young
man.

"Now, then, dirty beast! You'd better to own the two kids you have
filled her with. Fancy that, a slip of eighteen, who can't stand
straight!"

Maheu had to prevent his son from descending to see, as he said, the
colour of this carcass's skin.

A foreman came up and the rakes again began to move the coal. One could
only see, all along the hoppers, the round backs of women squabbling
incessantly over the stones.

Outside, the wind had suddenly quieted; a moist cold was falling from a
grey sky. The colliers thrust out their shoulders, folded their arms,
and set forth irregularly, with a rolling gait which made their large
bones stand out beneath their thin garments. In the daylight they
looked like a band of Negroes thrown into the mud. Some of them had not
finished their bricks; and the remains of the bread carried between the
shirt and the jacket made them humpbacked.

"Hallo! there's Bouteloup." said Zacharie, grinning.

Levaque without stopping exchanged two sentences with his lodger, a big
dark fellow of thirty-five with a placid, honest air:

"Is the soup ready, Louis?"

"I believe it is."

"Then the wife is good-humoured to-day."

"Yes, I believe she is."

Other miners bound for the earth-cutting came up, new bands which one
by one were engulfed in the pit. It was the three o'clock descent, more
men for the pit to devour, the gangs who would replace the sets of the
pikemen at the bottom of the passages. The mine never rested; day and
night human insects were digging out the rock six hundred metres below
the beetroot fields.

However, the youngsters went ahead. Jeanlin confided to Bébert a
complicated plan for getting four sous' worth of tobacco on credit,
while Lydie followed respectfully at a distance. Catherine came with
Zacharie and Étienne. None of them spoke. And it was only in front of
the Avantage inn that Maheu and Levaque rejoined them.

"Here we are," said the former to Étienne; "will you come in?"

They separated. Catherine had stood a moment motionless, gazing once
more at the young man with her large eyes full of greenish limpidity
like spring water, the crystal deepened the more by her black face. She
smiled and disappeared with the others on the road that led up to the
settlement.

The inn was situated between the village and the mine, at the crossing
of two roads. It was a two-storied brick house, whitewashed from top
to bottom, enlivened around the windows by a broad pale-blue border.
On a square sign-board nailed above the door, one read in yellow
letters: _A l'Avantage, licensed to Rasseneur._ Behind stretched
a skittle-ground enclosed by a hedge. The Company, who had done
everything to buy up the property placed within its vast territory, was
in despair over this inn in the open fields, at the very entrance of
the Voreux.

"Go in," said Maheu to Étienne.

The little parlour was quite bare with its white walls, its three
tables and its dozen chairs, its deal counter about the size of a
kitchen dresser. There were a dozen glasses at most, three bottles of
liqueur, a decanter, a small zinc tank with a pewter tap to hold the
beer; and nothing else--not a figure, not a little table, not a game.
In the metal fireplace, which was bright and polished, a coal fire was
burning quietly. On the flags a thin layer of white sand drank up the
constant moisture of this water-soaked land.

"A glass," ordered Maheu of a big fair girl, a neighbour's daughter who
sometimes took charge of the place. "Is Rasseneur in?"

The girl turned the tap, replying that the master would soon return.
In a long, slow gulp, the miner emptied half his glass to sweep away
the dust which filled his throat. He offered nothing to his companion.
One other customer, a damp and besmeared miner, was seated before the
table, drinking his beer in silence, with an air of deep meditation. A
third entered, was served in response to a gesture, paid and went away
without uttering a word.

But a stout man of thirty-eight, with a round shaven face and a
good-natured smile, now appeared. It was Rasseneur, a former pikeman
whom the Company had dismissed three years ago, after a strike. A very
good workman, he could speak well, put himself at the head of every
opposition, and had at last become the chief of the discontented. His
wife already held a license, like many miners' wives; and when he was
thrown on to the street he became an innkeeper himself; having found
the money, he placed his inn in front of the Voreux as a provocation
to the Company. Now his house had prospered; it had become a centre,
and he was enriched by the animosity he had gradually fostered in the
hearts of his old comrades.

"This is a lad I hired this morning," said Maheu at once. "Have you
got one of your two rooms free, and will you give him credit for a
fortnight?"

Rasseneur's broad face suddenly expressed great suspicion. He examined
Étienne with a glance, and replied, without giving himself the trouble
to express any regret:

"My two rooms are taken. Can't do it."

The young man expected this refusal; but it hurt him nevertheless,
and he was surprised at the sudden grief he experienced in going. No
matter; he would go when he had received his thirty sous. The miner
who was drinking at a table had left. Others, one by one, continued to
come in to clear their throats, then went on their road with the same
slouching gait. It was a simple swilling without joy or passion, the
silent satisfaction of a need.

"Then, there's no news?" Rasseneur asked in a peculiar tone of Maheu,
who was finishing his beer in small gulps.

The latter turned his head, and saw that only Étienne was near.

"There's been more squabbling. Yes, about the timbering." He told the
story. The innkeeper's face reddened, swelling with emotion, which
flamed in his skin and eyes. At last he broke out:

"Well, well! if they decide to lower the price they are done for."

Étienne constrained him. However he went on, throwing sidelong glances
in his direction. And there were reticences, and implications; he was
talking of the manager, M. Hennebeau, of his wife, of his nephew, the
little Négrel, without naming them, repeating that this could not go
on, that things were bound to smash up one of these fine days. The
misery was too great; and he spoke of the workshops that were closing,
the workers who were going away. During the last month he had given
more than six pounds of bread a day. He had heard the day before, that
M. Deneulin, the owner of a neighbouring pit, could scarcely keep
going. He had also received a letter from Lille full of disturbing
details.

"You know," he whispered, "it comes from that person you saw here one
evening."

But he was interrupted. His wife entered in her turn, a tall woman,
lean and keen, with a long nose and violet cheeks. She was a much more
radical politician than her husband.

"Pluchart's letter," she said. "Ah! if that fellow was master things
would soon go better."

Étienne had been listening for a moment; he understood and became
excited over these ideas of misery and revenge. This name, suddenly
uttered, caused him to start. He said aloud, as if in spite of himself:

"I know him--Pluchart."

They looked at him. He had to add:

"Yes, I am an engine-man: he was my foreman at Lille. A capable man. I
have often talked with him."

Rasseneur examined him afresh; and there was a rapid change on his
face, a sudden sympathy. At last he said to his wife:

"It's Maheu who brings me this gentleman, one of his putters, to see if
there is a room for him upstairs, and if we can give him credit for a
fortnight."

Then the matter was settled in four words. There was a room; the
lodger had left that morning. And the innkeeper, who was very excited,
talked more freely, repeating that he only asked possibilities from
the masters, without demanding, like so many others, things that were
too hard to get. His wife shrugged her shoulders and demanded justice,
absolutely.

"Good evening," interrupted Maheu. "All that won't prevent men from
going down, and as long as they go there will be people working
themselves to death. Look how fresh you are, these three years that
you've been out of it."

"Yes, I'm very much better," declared Rasseneur, complacently.

Étienne went as far as the door, thanking the miner, who was leaving;
but the latter nodded his head without adding a word, and the young
man watched him painfully climb up the road to the settlement. Madame
Rasseneur, occupied with serving customers, asked him to wait a minute,
when she would show him his room, where he could clean himself. Should
he remain? He again felt hesitation, a discomfort which made him regret
the freedom of the open road, the hunger beneath the sun, endured with
the joy of being one's own master. It seemed to him that he had lived
years from his arrival on the pit-bank, in the midst of squalls, to
those hours passed under the earth on his belly in the black passages.
And he shrank from beginning again; it was unjust and too hard. His
man's pride revolted at the idea of becoming a crushed and blinded
beast.

While Étienne was thus debating with himself, his eyes, wandering over
the immense plain, gradually began to see it clearly. He was surprised;
he had not imagined the horizon was like this, when old Bonnemort had
pointed it out to him in the darkness. Before him he plainly saw the
Voreux in a fold of the earth, with its wood and brick buildings, the
tarred screening-shed, the slate-covered steeple, the engine-room
and the tall, pale red chimney, all massed together with that evil
air. But around these buildings the space extended, and he had not
imagined it so large, changed into an inky sea by the ascending waves
of coal soot, bristling with high trestles which carried the rails of
the foot-bridges, encumbered in one corner with the timber supply,
which looked like the harvest of a mown forest. Towards the right the
pit-bank hid the view, colossal as a barricade of giants, already
covered with grass in its older part, consumed at the other end by an
interior fire which had been burning for a year with a thick smoke,
leaving at the surface in the midst of the pale grey of the slates and
sandstones long trails of bleeding rust. Then the fields unrolled, the
endless fields of wheat and beetroot, naked at this season of the year,
marshes with scanty vegetation, cut by a few stunted willows, distant
meadows separated by slender rows of poplars. Very far away little
pale patches indicated towns, Marchiennes to the north, Montsou to the
south; while the forest of Vandame to the east bordered the horizon
with the violet line of its leafless trees. And beneath the livid sky,
in the faint daylight of this winter afternoon, it seemed as if all the
blackness of the Voreux, and all its flying coal dust, had fallen upon
the plain, powdering the trees, sanding the roads, sowing the earth.

Étienne looked, and what especially surprised him was a canal, the
canalized stream of the Scarpe, which he had not seen in the night.
From the Voreux to Marchiennes this canal ran straight, like a dull
silver ribbon two leagues long, an avenue lined by large trees, raised
above the low earth, threading into space with the perspective of its
green banks, its pale water into which glided the vermilion of the
boats. Near one pit there was a wharf with moored vessels which were
laden directly from the trams at the foot-bridges. Afterwards the canal
made a curve, sloping by the marshes; and the whole soul of that smooth
plain appeared to lie in this geometrical stream, which traversed it
like a great road, carting coal and iron.

Étienne's glance went up from the canal to the settlement built on the
height, of which he could only distinguish the red tiles. Then his eyes
rested again at the bottom of the clay slope, towards the Voreux, on
two enormous masses of bricks made and burnt on the spot. A branch of
the Company's railroad passed behind a paling, for the use of the pit.
They must be sending down the last miners to the earth-cutting. Only
one shrill note came from a truck pushed by men. One felt no longer the
unknown darkness, the inexplicable thunder, the flaming of mysterious
stars. Afar, the blast furnaces and the coke kilns had paled with the
dawn. There only remained, unceasingly, the escapement of the pump,
always breathing with the same thick, long breath, the ogre's breath of
which he could now see the grey steam, and which nothing could satiate.

Then Étienne suddenly made up his mind. Perhaps he seemed to see again
Catherine's clear eyes, up there, at the entrance to the settlement.
Perhaps, rather, it was the wind of revolt which came from the Voreux.
He did not know, but he wished to go down again to the mine, to suffer
and to fight. And he thought fiercely of those people Bonnemort had
talked of, the crouching and sated god, to whom ten thousand starving
men gave their flesh without knowing it.



PART TWO



CHAPTER I


The Grégoires' property, Piolaine, was situated two kilometres to the
east of Montsou, on the Joiselle road. The house was a large square
building, without style, dating from the beginning of the last century.
Of all the land that once belonged to it there only remained some
thirty hectares, enclosed by walls, and easy to keep up. The orchard
and kitchen garden especially were everywhere spoken of, being famous
for the finest fruit and vegetables in the country. For the rest, there
was no park, only a small wood. The avenue of old limes, a vault of
foliage three hundred metres long, reaching from the gate to the porch,
was one of the curiosities of this bare plain, on which one could count
the large trees between Marchiennes and Beaugnies.

On that morning the Grégoires got up at eight o'clock. Usually they
never stirred until an hour later, being heavy sleepers; but last
night's tempest had disturbed them. And while her husband had gone
at once to see if the wind had made any havoc, Madame Grégoire went
down to the kitchen in her slippers and flannel dressing-gown. She was
short and stout, about fifty-eight years of age, and retained a broad,
surprised, dollish face beneath the dazzling whiteness of her hair.

"Mélanie," she said to the cook, "suppose you were to make the brioche
this morning, since the dough is ready. Mademoiselle will not get up
for half an hour yet, and she can eat it with her chocolate. Eh? It
will be a surprise."

The cook, a lean old woman who had served them for thirty years,
laughed.

"That's true! it will be a famous surprise. My stove is alight, and the
oven must be hot; and then Honorine can help me a bit."

Honorine, a girl of some twenty years, who had been taken in as a
child and brought up in the house, now acted as housemaid. Besides
these two women, the only other servant was the coachman, Francis, who
undertook the heavy work. A gardener and his wife were occupied with
the vegetables, the fruit, the flowers, and the poultry-yard. And as
service here was patriarchal, this little world lived together, like
one large family, on very good terms.

Madame Grégoire, who had planned this surprise of the brioche in bed,
waited to see the dough put in the oven. The kitchen was very large,
and one guessed it was the most important room in the house by its
extreme cleanliness and by the arsenal of saucepans, utensils, and pots
which filled it. It gave an impression of good feeding. Provisions
abounded, hanging from hooks or in cupboards.

"And let it be well glazed, won't you?" Madame Grégoire said as she
passed into the dining-room.

In spite of the hot-air stove which warmed the whole house, a coal fire
enlivened this room. In other respects it exhibited no luxury; a large
table, chairs, a mahogany sideboard; only two deep easy-chairs betrayed
a love of comfort, long happy hours of digestion. They never went into
the drawing-room, they remained here in a family circle.

Just then M. Grégoire came back dressed in a thick fustian jacket; he
also was ruddy for his sixty years, with large, good-natured, honest
features beneath the snow of his curly hair. He had seen the coachman
and the gardener; there had been no damage of importance, nothing but
a fallen chimney-pot. Every morning he liked to give a glance round
Piolaine, which was not large enough to cause him anxiety, and from
which he derived all the happiness of ownership.

"And Cécile?" he asked, "isn't she up yet then?"

"I can't make it out," replied his wife. "I thought I heard her moving."

The table was set; there were three cups on the white cloth. They sent
Honorine to see what had become of mademoiselle. But she came back
immediately, restraining her laughter, stifling her voice, as if she
were still upstairs in the bedroom.

"Oh! if monsieur and madame could see mademoiselle! She sleeps; oh! she
sleeps like an angel. One can't imagine it! It's a pleasure to look at
her."

The father and mother exchanged tender looks. He said, smiling:

"Will you come and see?"

"The poor little darling!" she murmured. "I'll come."

And they went up together. The room was the only luxurious one in the
house. It was draped in blue silk, and the furniture was lacquered
white, with blue tracery--a spoilt child's whim, which her parents had
gratified. In the vague whiteness of the bed, beneath the half-light
which came through a curtain that was drawn back, the young girl was
sleeping with her cheek resting on her naked arm. She was not pretty,
too healthy, in too vigorous condition, fully developed at eighteen;
but she had superb flesh, the freshness of milk, with her chestnut
hair, her round face, and little willful nose lost between her cheeks.
The coverlet had slipped down, and she was breathing so softly that her
respiration did not even lift her already well-developed bosom.

"That horrible wind must have prevented her from closing her eyes,"
said the mother softly.

The father imposed silence with a gesture. Both of them leant down
and gazed with adoration on this girl, in her virgin nakedness, whom
they had desired so long, and who had come so late, when they had no
longer hoped for her. They found her perfect, not at all too fat, and
could never feed her sufficiently. And she went on sleeping, without
feeling them near her, with their faces against hers. However, a slight
movement disturbed her motionless face. They feared that they would
wake her, and went out on tiptoe.

"Hush!" said M. Grégoire, at the door. "If she has not slept we must
leave her sleeping."

"As long as she likes, the darling!" agreed Madame Grégoire. "We will
wait."

They went down and seated themselves in the easy-chairs in the
dining-room; while the servants, laughing at mademoiselle's sound
sleep, kept the chocolate on the stove without grumbling. He took up a
newspaper; she knitted at a large woollen quilt. It was very hot, and
not a sound was heard in the silent house.

The Grégoires' fortune, about forty thousand francs a year, was
entirely invested in a share of the Montsou mines. They would
complacently narrate its origin, which dated from the very formation of
the Company.

Towards the beginning of the last century, there had been a mad search
for coal between Lille and Valenciennes. The success of those who held
the concession, which was afterwards to become the Anzin Company, had
turned all heads. In every commune the ground was tested; and societies
were formed and concessions grew up in a night. But among all the
obstinate seekers of that epoch, Baron Desrumaux had certainly left
the reputation for the most heroic intelligence. For forty years he
had struggled without yielding, in the midst of continual obstacles:
early searches unsuccessful, new pits abandoned at the end of long
months of work, landslips which filled up borings, sudden inundations
which drowned the workmen, hundreds of thousands of francs thrown
into the earth; then the squabbles of the management, the panics of
the shareholders, the struggle with the lords of the soil, who were
resolved not to recognize royal concessions if no treaty was first made
with themselves. He had at last founded the association of Desrumaux,
Fauquenoix and Co. to exploit the Montsou concession, and the pits
began to yield a small profit when two neighbouring concessions, that
of Cougny, belonging to the Comte de Cougny, and that of Joiselle,
belonging to the Cornille and Jenard Company, had nearly overwhelmed
him beneath the terrible assault of their competition. Happily, on the
25th August 1760, a treaty was made between the three concessions,
uniting them into a single one. The Montsou Mining Company was created,
such as it still exists to-day. In the distribution they had divided
the total property, according to the standard of the money of the
time, into twenty-four sous, of which each was subdivided into twelve
deniers, which made two hundred and eighty-eight deniers; and as the
denier was worth ten thousand francs the capital represented a sum of
nearly three millions. Desrumaux, dying but triumphant, received in
this division six sous and three deniers.

In those days the baron possessed Piolaine, which had three hundred
hectares belonging to it, and he had in his service as steward Honoré
Grégoire, a Picardy lad, the great-grandfather of Léon Grégoire,
Cécile's father. When the Montsou treaty was made, Honoré, who had
laid up savings to the amount of some fifty thousand francs, yielded
tremblingly to his master's unshakable faith. He took out ten thousand
francs in fine crowns, and took a denier, though with the fear of
robbing his children of that sum. His son Eugéne, in fact, received
very small dividends; and as he had become a bourgeois and had been
foolish enough to throw away the other forty thousand francs of the
paternal inheritance in a company that came to grief, he lived meanly
enough. But the interest of the denier gradually increased. The fortune
began with Félicien, who was able to realize a dream with which his
grandfather, the old steward, had nursed his childhood--the purchase
of dismembered Piolaine, which he acquired as national property for
a ludicrous sum. However, bad years followed. It was necessary to
await the conclusion of the revolutionary catastrophes, and afterwards
Napoleon's bloody fall; and it was Léon Grégoire who profited at a
stupefying rate of progress by the timid and uneasy investment of his
great-grandfather. Those poor ten thousand francs grew and multiplied
with the Company's prosperity. From 1820 they had brought in one
hundred per cent, ten thousand francs. In 1844 they had produced twenty
thousand; in 1850, forty. During two years the dividend had reached the
prodigious figure of fifty thousand francs; the value of the denier,
quoted at the Lille bourse at a million, had centupled in a century.

M. Grégoire, who had been advised to sell out when this figure of a
million was reached, had refused with his smiling paternal air. Six
months later an industrial crisis broke out; the denier fell to six
hundred thousand francs. But he still smiled; he regretted nothing, for
the Grégoires had maintained an obstinate faith in their mine. It would
rise again: God Himself was not so solid. Then with his religious faith
was mixed profound gratitude towards an investment which for a century
had supported the family in doing nothing. It was like a divinity of
their own, whom their egoism surrounded with a kind of worship, the
benefactor of the hearth, lulling them in their great bed of idleness,
fattening them at their gluttonous table. From father to son it had
gone on. Why risk displeasing fate by doubting it? And at the bottom
of their fidelity there was a superstitious terror, a fear lest the
million of the denier might suddenly melt away if they were to realize
it and to put it in a drawer. It seemed to them more sheltered in the
earth, from which a race of miners, generations of starving people,
extracted it for them, a little every day, as they needed it.

For the rest, happiness rained on this house. M. Grégoire, when very
young, had married the daughter of a Marchiennes druggist, a plain,
penniless girl, whom he adored, and who repaid him with happiness. She
shut herself up in her household, and worshipped her husband, having
no other will but his. No difference of tastes separated them, their
desires were mingled in one idea of comfort; and they had thus lived
for forty years, in affection and little mutual services. It was a
well-regulated existence; the forty thousand francs were spent quietly,
and the savings expended on Cécile, whose tardy birth had for a moment
disturbed the budget. They still satisfied all her whims--a second
horse, two more carriages, toilets sent from Paris. But they tasted in
this one more joy; they thought nothing too good for their daughter,
although they had such a horror of display that they had preserved the
fashions of their youth. Every unprofitable expense seemed foolish to
them.

Suddenly the door opened, and a loud voice called out:

"Hallo! What now? Having breakfast without me!"

It was Cécile, just come from her bed, her eyes heavy with sleep. She
had simply put up her hair and flung on a white woollen dressing-gown.

"No, no!" said the mother; "you see we are all waiting. Eh? has the
wind prevented you from sleeping, poor darling?"

The young girl looked at her in great surprise.

"Has it been windy? I didn't know anything about it. I haven't moved
all night."

Then they thought this funny, and all three began to laugh; the
servants who were bringing in the breakfast also broke out laughing,
so amused was the household at the idea that mademoiselle had been
sleeping for twelve hours right off. The sight of the brioche completed
the expansion of their faces.

"What! Is it cooked, then?" said Cécile; "that must be a surprise for
me! That'll be good now, hot, with the chocolate!"

They sat down to table at last with the smoking chocolate in their
cups, and for a long time talked of nothing but the brioche. Mélanie
and Honorine remained to give details about the cooking and watched
them stuffing themselves with greasy lips, saying that it was a
pleasure to make a cake when one saw the masters enjoying it so much.

But the dogs began to bark loudly; perhaps they announced the music
mistress, who came from Marchiennes on Mondays and Fridays. A professor
of literature also came. All the young girl's education was thus
carried on at Piolaine in happy ignorance, with her childish whims,
throwing the book out of the window as soon as anything wearied her.

"It is M. Deneulin," said Honorine, returning.

Behind her, Deneulin, a cousin of M. Grégoire's, appeared without
ceremony; with his loud voice, his quick gestures, he had the
appearance of an old cavalry officer. Although over fifty, his short
hair and thick moustache were as black as ink.

"Yes! It is I. Good day! Don't disturb yourselves."

He had sat down amid the family's exclamations. They turned back at
last to their chocolate.

"Have you anything to tell me?" asked M. Grégoire.

"No! nothing at all," Deneulin hastened to reply. "I came out on
horseback to rub off the rust a bit, and as I passed your door I
thought I would just look in."

Cécile questioned him about Jeanne and Lucie, his daughters. They
were perfectly well, the first was always at her painting, while the
other, the elder, was training her voice at the piano from morning till
night. And there was a slight quiver in his voice, a disquiet which he
concealed beneath bursts of gaiety.

M. Grégoire began again:

"And everything goes well at the pit?"

"Well, I am upset over this dirty crisis. Ah! we are paying for the
prosperous years! They have built too many workshops, put down too many
railways, invested too much capital with a view to a large return, and
today the money is asleep. They can't get any more to make the whole
thing work. Luckily things are not desperate; I shall get out of it
somehow."

Like his cousin he had inherited a denier in the Montsou mines. But
being an enterprising engineer, tormented by the desire for a royal
fortune, he had hastened to sell out when the denier had reached a
million. For some months he had been maturing a scheme. His wife
possessed, through an uncle, the little concession of Vandame, where
only two pits were open--Jean-Bart and Gaston-Marie--in an abandoned
state, and with such defective material that the output hardly covered
the cost. Now he was meditating the repair of Jean-Bart, the renewal
of the engine, and the enlargement of the shaft so as to facilitate
the descent, keeping Gaston-Marie only for exhaustion purposes. They
ought to be able to shovel up gold there, he said. The idea was sound.
Only the million had been spent over it, and this damnable industrial
crisis broke out at the moment when large profits would have shown that
he was right. Besides, he was a bad manager, with a rough kindness
towards his workmen, and since his wife's death he allowed himself to
be pillaged, and also gave the rein to his daughters, the elder of whom
talked of going on the stage, while the younger had already had three
landscapes refused at the Salon, both of them joyous amid the downfall,
and exhibiting in poverty their capacity for good household management.

"You see, Léon," he went on, in a hesitating voice, "you were wrong not
to sell out at the same time as I did; now everything is going down.
You run risk, and if you had confided your money to me you would have
seen what we should have done at Vandame in our mine!"

M. Grégoire finished his chocolate without haste. He replied peacefully:

"Never! You know that I don't want to speculate. I live quietly, and it
would be too foolish to worry my head over business affairs. And as for
Montsou, it may continue to go down, we shall always get our living out
of it. It doesn't do to be so diabolically greedy! Then, listen, it is
you who will bite your fingers one day, for Montsou will rise again and
Cécile's grandchildren will still get their white bread out of it."

Deneulin listened with a constrained smile.

"Then," he murmured, "if I were to ask you to put a hundred thousand
francs in my affair you would refuse?"

But seeing the Grégoires' disturbed faces he regretted having gone so
far; he put off his idea of a loan, reserving it until the case was
desperate.

"Oh! I have not got to that! it is a joke. Good heavens! Perhaps you
are right; the money that other people earn for you is the best to
fatten on."

They changed the conversation. Cécile spoke again of her cousins, whose
tastes interested, while at the same time they shocked her. Madame
Grégoire promised to take her daughter to see those dear little ones on
the first fine day. M. Grégoire, however, with a distracted air, did
not follow the conversation. He added aloud:

"If I were in your place I wouldn't persist any more; I would treat
with Montsou. They want it, and you will get your money back."

He alluded to an old hatred which existed between the concession
of Montsou and that of Vandame. In spite of the latter's slight
importance, its powerful neighbour was enraged at seeing, enclosed
within its own sixty-seven communes, this square league which did not
belong to it, and after having vainly tried to kill it had plotted to
buy it at a low price when in a failing condition. The war continued
without truce. Each party stopped its galleries at two hundred metres
from the other; it was a duel to the last drop of blood, although the
managers and engineers maintained polite relations with each other.

Deneulin's eyes had flamed up.

"Never!" he cried, in his turn. "Montsou shall never have Vandame as
long as I am alive. I dined on Thursday at Hennebeau's, and I saw
him fluttering around me. Last autumn, when the big men came to the
administration building, they made me all sorts of advances. Yes, yes,
I know them--those marquises, and dukes, and generals, and ministers!
Brigands who would take away even your shirt at the corner of a wood."

He could not cease. Besides, M. Grégoire did not defend the
administration of Montsou--the six stewards established by the treaty
of 1760, who governed the Company despotically, and the five survivors
of whom on every death chose the new member among the powerful and rich
shareholders. The opinion of the owner of Piolaine, with his reasonable
ideas, was that these gentlemen were sometimes rather immoderate in
their exaggerated love of money.

Mélanie had come to clear away the table. Outside the dogs were again
barking, and Honorine was going to the door, when Cécile, who was
stifled by heat and food, left the table.

"No, never mind! it must be for my lesson."

Deneulin had also risen. He watched the young girl go out, and asked,
smiling:

"Well! and the marriage with little Négrel?"

"Nothing has been settled," said Madame Grégoire; "it is only an idea.
We must reflect."

"No doubt!" he went on, with a gay laugh. "I believe that the nephew
and the aunt-- What baffles me is that Madame Hennebeau should throw
herself so on Cécile's neck."

But M. Grégoire was indignant. So distinguished a lady, and fourteen
years older than the young man! It was monstrous; he did not like
joking on such subjects. Deneulin, still laughing, shook hands with him
and left.

"Not yet," said Cécile, coming back. "It is that woman with the two
children. You know, mamma, the miner's wife whom we met. Are they to
come in here?"

They hesitated. Were they very dirty? No, not very; and they would
leave their sabots in the porch. Already the father and mother had
stretched themselves out in the depths of their large easy-chairs. They
were digesting there. The fear of change of air decided them.

"Let them come in, Honorine."

Then Maheude and her little ones entered, frozen and hungry, seized
by fright on finding themselves in this room, which was so warm and
smelled so nicely of the brioche.



CHAPTER II


The room remained shut up and the shutters had allowed gradual streaks
of daylight to form a fan on the ceiling. The confined air stupefied
them so that they continued their night's slumber: Lénore and Henri in
each other's arms, Alzire with her head back, lying on her hump; while
Father Bonnemort, having the bed of Zacharie and Jeanlin to himself,
snored with open mouth. No sound came from the closet where Maheude had
gone to sleep again while suckling Estelle, her breast hanging to one
side, the child lying across her belly, stuffed with milk, overcome
also and stifling in the soft flesh of the bosom.

The clock below struck six. Along the front of the settlement one heard
the sound of doors, then the clatter of sabots along the pavements; the
screening women were going to the pit. And silence again fell until
seven o'clock. Then shutters were drawn back, yawns and coughs were
heard through the walls. For a long time a coffee-mill scraped, but no
one awoke in the room.

Suddenly a sound of blows and shouts, far away, made Alzire sit up. She
was conscious of the time, and ran barefooted to shake her mother.

"Mother, mother, it is late! you have to go out. Take care, you are
crushing Estelle."

And she saved the child, half-stifled beneath the enormous mass of the
breasts.

"Good gracious!" stammered Maheude, rubbing her eyes, "I'm so knocked
up I could sleep all day. Dress Lénore and Henri, I'll take them with
me; and you can take care of Estelle; I don't want to drag her along
for fear of hurting her, this dog's weather."

She hastily washed herself and put on an old blue skirt, her cleanest,
and a loose jacket of grey wool in which she had made two patches the
evening before.

"And the soup! Good gracious!" she muttered again.

When her mother had gone down, upsetting everything, Alzire went back
into the room taking with her Estelle, who had begun screaming. But
she was used to the little one's rages; at eight she had all a woman's
tender cunning in soothing and amusing her. She gently placed her in
her still warm bed, and put her to sleep again, giving her a finger
to suck. It was time, for now another disturbance broke out, and she
had to make peace between Lénore and Henri, who at last awoke. These
children could never get on together; it was only when they were asleep
that they put their arms round one another's necks. The girl, who was
six years old, as soon as she was awake set on the boy, her junior
by two years, who received her blows without returning them. Both of
them had the same kind of head, which was too large for them, as if
blown out, with disorderly yellow hair. Alzire had to pull her sister
by the legs, threatening to take the skin off her bottom. Then there
was stamping over the washing, and over every garment that she put
on to them. The shutters remained closed so as not to disturb Father
Bonnemort's sleep. He went on snoring amid the children's frightful
clatter.

"It's ready. Are you coming, up there?" shouted Maheude.

She had put back the blinds, and stirred up the fire, adding some coal
to it. Her hope was that the old man had not swallowed all the soup.
But she found the saucepan dry, and cooked a handful of vermicelli
which she had been keeping for three days in reserve. They could
swallow it with water, without butter, as there could not be any
remaining from the day before, and she was surprised to find that
Catherine in preparing the bricks had performed the miracle of leaving
a piece as large as a nut. But this time the cupboard was indeed empty:
nothing, not a crust, not an odd fragment, not a bone to gnaw. What was
to become of them if Maigrat persisted in cutting short their credit,
and if the Piolaine people would not give them the five francs? When
the men and the girl returned from the pit they would want to eat, for
unfortunately it had not yet been found out how to live without eating.

"Come down, will you?" she cried out, getting angry. "I ought to be
gone by this!"

When Alzire and the children were there she divided the vermicelli in
three small portions. She herself was not hungry, she said. Although
Catherine had already poured water on the coffee-dregs of the day
before, she did so over again, and swallowed two large glasses of
coffee so weak that it looked like rusty water. That would keep her up
all the same.

"Listen!" she repeated to Alzire. "You must let your grandfather sleep;
you must watch that Estelle does not knock her head; and if she wakes,
or if she howls too much, here! take this bit of sugar and melt it and
give it her in spoonfuls. I know that you are sensible and won't eat it
yourself."

"And school, mother?"

"School! well, that must be left for another day: I want you."

"And the soup? would you like me to make it if you come back late?"

"Soup, soup: no, wait till I come."

Alzire, with the precocious intelligence of a little invalid girl,
could make soup very well. She must have understood, for she did not
insist. Now the whole settlement was awake, bands of children were
going to school, and one heard the trailing noise of their clogs. Eight
o'clock struck, and a growing murmur of chatter arose on the left,
among the Levaque people. The women were commencing their day around
the coffee-pots, with their fists on their hips, their tongues turning
without ceasing, like millstones. A faded head, with thick lips and
flattened nose, was pressed against a window-pane, calling out:

"Got some news. Stop a bit."

"No, no! later on," replied Maheude. "I have to go out."

And for fear of giving way to the offer of a glass of hot coffee she
pushed Lénore and Henri, and set out with them. Up above, Father
Bonnemort was still snoring with a rhythmic snore which rocked the
house.

Outside, Maheude was surprised to find that the wind was no longer
blowing. There had been a sudden thaw; the sky was earth-coloured,
the walls were sticky with greenish moisture, and the roads were
covered with pitch-like mud, a special kind of mud peculiar to the
coal country, as black as diluted soot, thick and tenacious enough
to pull off her sabots. Suddenly she boxed Lénore's ears, because
the little one amused herself by piling the mud on her clogs as on
the end of a shovel. On leaving the settlement she had gone along by
the pit-bank and followed the road of the canal, making a short cut
through broken-up paths, across rough country shut in by mossy palings.
Sheds succeeded one another, long workshop buildings, tall chimneys
spitting out soot, and soiling this ravaged suburb of an industrial
district. Behind a clump of poplars the old Réquillart pit exhibited
its crumbling steeple, of which the large skeleton alone stood upright.
And turning to the right, Maheude found herself on the high road.

"Stop, stop, dirty pig! I'll teach you to make mincemeat."

Now it was Henri, who had taken a handful of mud and was moulding it.
The two children had their ears impartially boxed, and were brought
into good order, looking out of the corner of their eyes at the mud
pies they had made. They draggled along, already exhausted by their
efforts to unstick their shoes at every step.

On the Marchiennes side the road unrolled its two leagues of pavement,
which stretched straight as a ribbon soaked in cart grease between
the reddish fields. But on the other side it went winding down
through Montsou, which was built on the slope of a large undulation
in the plain. These roads in the Nord, drawn like a string between
manufacturing towns, with their slight curves, their slow ascents,
gradually get lined with houses and tend to make the department one
laborious city. The little brick houses, daubed over to enliven the
climate, some yellow, others blue, others black--the last, no doubt,
in order to reach at once their final shade--went serpentining down to
right and to left to the bottom of the slope. A few large two-storied
villas, the dwellings of the heads of the workshops, made gaps in the
serried line of narrow facades. A church, also of brick, looked like a
new model of a large furnace, with its square tower already stained by
the floating coal dust. And amid the sugar works, the rope works, and
the flour mills, there stood out ballrooms, restaurants, and beershops,
which were so numerous that to every thousand houses there were more
than five hundred inns.

As she approached the Company's Yards, a vast series of storehouses and
workshops, Maheude decided to take Henri and Lénore by the hand, one on
the right, the other on the left. Beyond was situated the house of the
director, M. Hennebeau, a sort of vast chalet, separated from the road
by a grating, and then a garden in which some lean trees vegetated.
Just then, a carriage had stopped before the door and a gentleman
with decorations and a lady in a fur cloak alighted: visitors just
arrived from Paris at the Marchiennes station, for Madame Hennebeau,
who appeared in the shadow of the porch, was uttering exclamations of
surprise and joy.

"Come along, then, dawdlers!" growled Maheude, pulling the two little
ones, who were standing in the mud.

When she arrived at Maigrat's, she was quite excited. Maigrat lived
close to the manager; only a wall separated the latter's ground from
his own small house, and he had there a warehouse, a long building
which opened on to the road as a shop without a front. He kept
everything there, grocery, cooked meats, fruit, and sold bread, beer,
and saucepans. Formerly an overseer at the Voreux, he had started with
a small canteen; then, thanks to the protection of his superiors, his
business had enlarged, gradually killing the Montsou retail trade. He
centralized merchandise, and the considerable custom of the settlements
enabled him to sell more cheaply and to give longer credit. Besides, he
had remained in the Company's hands, and they had built his small house
and his shop.

"Here I am again, Monsieur Maigrat," said Maheude humbly, finding him
standing in front of his door.

He looked at her without replying. He was a stout, cold, polite man,
and he prided himself on never changing his mind.

"Now you won't send me away again, like yesterday. We must have bread
from now to Saturday. Sure enough, we owe you sixty francs these two
years."

She explained in short, painful phrases. It was an old debt contracted
during the last strike. Twenty times over they had promised to settle
it, but they had not been able; they could not even give him forty sous
a fortnight. And then a misfortune had happened two days before; she
had been obliged to pay twenty francs to a shoemaker who threatened to
seize their things. And that was why they were without a sou. Otherwise
they would have been able to go on until Saturday, like the others.

Maigrat, with protruded belly and folded arms, shook his head at every
supplication.

"Only two loaves, Monsieur Maigrat. I am reasonable, I don't ask for
coffee. Only two three-pound loaves a day."

"No," he shouted at last, at the top of his voice.

His wife had appeared, a pitiful creature who passed all her days
over a ledger, without even daring to lift her head. She moved away,
frightened at seeing this unfortunate woman turning her ardent,
beseeching eyes towards her. It was said that she yielded the conjugal
bed to the putters among the customers. It was a known fact that when
a miner wished to prolong his credit, he had only to send his daughter
or his wife, plain or pretty, it mattered not, provided they were
complaisant.

Maheude, still imploring Maigrat with her look, felt herself
uncomfortable under the pale keenness of his small eyes, which seemed
to undress her. It made her angry; she would have understood before she
had had seven children, when she was young. And she went off, violently
dragging Lénore and Henri who were occupied in picking up nut-shells
from the gutter where they were making investigations.

"This won't bring you luck, Monsieur Maigrat, remember!"

Now there only remained the Piolaine people. If these would not throw
her a five-franc piece she might as well lie down and die. She had
taken the Joiselle road on the left. The administration building was
there at the corner of the road, a veritable brick palace, where
the great people from Paris, princes and generals and members of
the Government, came every autumn to give large dinners. As she
walked she was already spending the five francs, first bread, then
coffee, afterwards a quarter of butter, a bushel of potatoes for the
morning soup and the evening stew; finally, perhaps, a bit of pig's
chitterlings, for the father needed meat.

The Curé of Montsou, Abbé Joire, was passing, holding up his cassock,
with the delicate air of a fat, well-nourished cat afraid of wetting
its fur. He was a mild man who pretended not to interest himself in
anything, so as not to vex either the workers or the masters.

"Good day, Monsieur le Curé."

Without stopping he smiled at the children, and left her planted in
the middle of the road. She was not religious, but she had suddenly
imagined that this priest would give her something.

And the journey began again through the black, sticky mud. There were
still two kilometres to walk, and the little ones dragged behind more
than ever, for they were frightened, and no longer amused themselves.
To right and to left of the path the same vague landscape unrolled,
enclosed within mossy palings, the same factory buildings, dirty with
smoke, bristling with tall chimneys. Then the flat land was spread
out in immense open fields, like an ocean of brown clods, without a
tree-trunk, as far as the purplish line of the forest of Vandame.

"Carry me, mother."

She carried them one after the other. Puddles made holes in the
pathway, and she pulled up her clothes, fearful of arriving too dirty.
Three times she nearly fell, so sticky was that confounded pavement.
And as they at last arrived before the porch, two enormous dogs threw
themselves upon them, barking so loudly that the little ones yelled
with terror. The coachman was obliged to take a whip to them.

"Leave your sabots, and come in," repeated Honorine. In the dining-room
the mother and children stood motionless, dazed by the sudden heat, and
very constrained beneath the gaze of this old lady and gentleman, who
were stretched out in their easy-chairs.

"Cécile," said the old lady, "fulfil your little duties."

The Grégoires charged Cécile with their charities. It was part of their
idea of a good education. One must be charitable. They said themselves
that their house was the house of God. Besides, they flattered
themselves that they performed their charity with intelligence, and
they were exercised by a constant fear lest they should be deceived,
and so encourage vice. So they never gave money, never! Not ten sous,
not two sous, for it is a well-known fact that as soon as a poor man
gets two sous he drinks them. Their alms were, therefore, always in
kind, especially in warm clothing, distributed during the winter to
needy children.

"Oh! the poor dears!" exclaimed Cécile, '"how pale they are from the
cold! Honorine, go and look for the parcel in the cupboard."

The servants were also gazing at these miserable creatures with the
pity and vague uneasiness of girls who are in no difficulty about their
own dinners. While the housemaid went upstairs, the cook forgot her
duties, leaving the rest of the brioche on the table, and stood there
swinging her empty hands.

"I still have two woollen dresses and some comforters," Cécile went on;
"you will see how warm they will be, the poor dears!"

Then Maheude found her tongue, and stammered:

"Thank you so much, mademoiselle. You are all too good."

Tears had filled her eyes, she thought herself sure of the five francs,
and was only preoccupied by the way in which she would ask for them if
they were not offered to her. The housemaid did not reappear, and there
was a moment of embarrassed silence. From their mother's skirts the
little ones opened their eyes wide and gazed at the brioche.

"You only have these two?" asked Madame Grégoire, in order to break the
silence.

"Oh, madame! I have seven."

M. Grégoire, who had gone back to his newspaper, sat up indignantly.

"Seven children! But why? good God!"

"It is imprudent," murmured the old lady.

Maheude made a vague gesture of apology. What would you have? One
doesn't think about it at all, they come quite naturally. And then,
when they grow up they bring something in, and that makes the household
go. Take their case, they could get on, if it was not for the
grandfather who was getting quite stiff, and if it was not that among
the lot only two of her sons and her eldest daughter were old enough
to go down into the pit. It was necessary, all the same, to feed the
little ones who brought nothing in.

"Then," said Madame Grégoire, "you have worked for a long time at the
mines?"

A silent laugh lit up Maheude's pale face.

"Ah, yes! ah, yes! I went down till I was twenty. The doctor said that
I should stay down for good after I had been confined the second time,
because it seems that made something go wrong in my inside. Besides,
then I got married, and I had enough to do in the house. But on my
husband's side, you see, they have been down there for ages. It goes
up from grandfather to grandfather, one doesn't know how far back,
quite to the beginning when they first took the pick down there at
Réquillart."

M. Grégoire thoughtfully contemplated this woman and these pitiful
children, with their waxy flesh, their discoloured hair, the
degeneration which stunted them, gnawed by anaemia, and with the
melancholy ugliness of starvelings. There was silence again, and one
only heard the burning coal as it gave out a jet of gas. The moist
room had that heavy air of comfort in which our middle-class nooks of
happiness slumber.

"What is she doing, then?" exclaimed Cécile impatiently. "Mélanie, go
up and tell her that the parcel is at the bottom of the cupboard, on
the left."

In the meanwhile, M. Grégoire repeated aloud the reflections inspired
by the sight of these starving ones.

"There is evil in this world, it is quite true; but, my good woman,
it must also be said that workpeople are never prudent. Thus, instead
of putting aside a few sous like our peasants, miners drink, get into
debt, and end by not having enough to support their families."

"Monsieur is right," replied Maheude sturdily. "They don't always keep
to the right path. That's what I'm always saying to the ne'er-do-wells
when they complain. Now, I have been lucky; my husband doesn't drink.
All the same, on feast Sundays he sometimes takes a drop too much; but
it never goes farther. It is all the nicer of him, since before our
marriage he drank like a hog, begging your pardon. And yet, you know,
it doesn't help us much that he is so sensible. There are days like
to-day when you might turn out all the drawers in the house and not
find a farthing."

She wished to suggest to them the idea of the five-franc piece, and
went on in her low voice, explaining the fatal debt, small at first,
then large and overwhelming. They paid regularly for many fortnights.
But one day they got behind, and then it was all up. They could never
catch up again. The gulf widened, and the men became disgusted with
work which did not even allow them to pay their way. Do what they
could, there was nothing but difficulties until death. Besides, it must
be understood that a collier needed a glass to wash away the dust.
It began there, and then he was always in the inn when worries came.
Without complaining of any one it might be that the workmen did not
earn as much as they ought to.

"I thought," said Madame Grégoire, "that the Company gave you lodging
and firing?"

Maheude glanced sideways at the flaming coal in the fireplace.

"Yes, yes, they give us coal, not very grand, but it burns. As to
lodging, it only costs six francs a month; that sounds like nothing,
but it is often pretty hard to pay. To-day they might cut me up into
bits without getting two sous out of me. Where there's nothing, there's
nothing."

The lady and gentleman were silent, softly stretched out, and gradually
wearied and disquieted by the exhibition of this wretchedness. She
feared she had wounded them, and added, with the stolid and just air of
a practical woman:

"Oh! I didn't want to complain. Things are like this, and one has to
put up with them; all the more that it's no good struggling, perhaps
we shouldn't change anything. The best is, is it not, to try and live
honestly in the place in which the good God has put us?"

M. Grégoire approved this emphatically.

"With such sentiments, my good woman, one is above misfortune."

Honorine and Mélanie at last brought the parcel.

Cécile unfastened it and took out the two dresses. She added
comforters, even stockings and mittens. They would all fit beautifully;
she hastened and made the servants wrap up the chosen garments; for her
music mistress had just arrived; and she pushed the mother and children
towards the door.

"We are very short," stammered Maheude; "if we only had a five-franc
piece--"

The phrase was stifled, for the Maheus were proud and never begged.
Cécile looked uneasily at her father; but the latter refused
decisively, with an air of duty.

"No, it is not our custom. We cannot do it."

Then the young girl, moved by the mother's overwhelmed face, wished to
do all she could for the children. They were still looking fixedly at
the brioche; she cut it in two and gave it to them.

"Here! this is for you."

Then, taking the pieces back, she asked for an old newspaper:

"Wait, you must share with your brothers and sisters."

And beneath the tender gaze of her parents she finally pushed them out
of the room. The poor starving urchins went off, holding the brioche
respectfully in their benumbed little hands.

Maheude dragged her children along the road, seeing neither the desert
fields, nor the black mud, nor the great livid sky. As she passed
through Montsou she resolutely entered Maigrat's shop, and begged so
persistently that at last she carried away two loaves, coffee, butter,
and even her five-franc piece, for the man also lent money by the week.
It was not her that he wanted, it was Catherine; she understood that
when he advised her to send her daughter for provisions. They would see
about that. Catherine would box his ears if he came too close under her
nose.



CHAPTER III


Eleven o'clock struck at the little church in the Deux-Cent-Quarante
settlement, a brick chapel to which Abbé Joire came to say mass
on Sundays. In the school beside it, also of brick, one heard the
faltering voices of the children, in spite of windows closed against
the outside cold. The wide passages, divided into little gardens,
back to back, between the four large blocks of uniform houses, were
deserted; and these gardens, devastated by the winter, exhibited
the destitution of their marly soil, lumped and spotted by the last
vegetables. They were making soup, chimneys were smoking, a woman
appeared at distant intervals along the fronts, opened a door and
disappeared. From one end to the other, on the pavement, the pipes
dripped into tubs, although it was no longer raining, so charged was
this grey sky with moistness. And the village, built altogether in the
midst of the vast plain, and edged by its black roads as by a mourning
border, had no touch of joyousness about it save the regular bands of
its red tiles, constantly washed by showers.

When Maheude returned, she went out of her way to buy potatoes from
an overseer's wife whose crop was not yet exhausted. Behind a curtain
of sickly poplars, the only trees in these flat regions, was a group
of isolated buildings, houses placed four together, and surrounded
by their gardens. As the Company reserved this new experiment for
the captains, the workpeople called this corner of the hamlet the
settlement of the Bas-de-Soie, just as they called their own settlement
Paie-tes-Dettes, in good-humoured irony of their wretchedness.

"Eh! Here we are," said Maheude, laden with parcels, pushing in Lénore
and Henri, covered with mud and quite tired out.

In front of the fire Estelle was screaming, cradled in Alzire's arms.
The latter, having no more sugar and not knowing how to soothe her, had
decided to pretend to give her the breast. This ruse often succeeded.
But this time it was in vain for her to open her dress, and to press
the mouth against the lean breast of an eight-year-old invalid; the
child was enraged at biting the skin and drawing nothing.

"Pass her to me," cried the mother as soon as she found herself free;
"she won't let us say a word."

When she had taken from her bodice a breast as heavy as a leather
bottle, to the neck of which the brawler hung, suddenly silent, they
were at last able to talk. Otherwise everything was going on well; the
little housekeeper had kept up the fire and had swept and arranged the
room. And in the silence they heard upstairs the grandfather's snoring,
the same rhythmic snoring which had not stopped for a moment.

"What a lot of things!" murmured Alzire, smiling at the provisions. "If
you like, mother, I'll make the soup."

The table was encumbered: a parcel of clothes, two loaves, potatoes,
butter, coffee, chicory, and half a pound of pig's chitterlings.

"Oh! the soup!" said Maheude with an air of fatigue. "We must gather
some sorrel and pull up some leeks. No! I will make some for the men
afterwards. Put some potatoes on to boil; we'll eat them with a little
butter and some coffee, eh? Don't forget the coffee!"

But suddenly she thought of the brioche. She looked at the empty hands
of Lénore and Henri who were fighting on the floor, already rested and
lively. These gluttons had slyly eaten the brioche on the road. She
boxed their ears, while Alzire, who was putting the saucepan on the
fire, tried to appease her.

"Let them be, mother. If the brioche was for me, you know I don't mind
a bit. They were hungry, walking so far."

Midday struck; they heard the clogs of the children coming out of
school. The potatoes were cooked, and the coffee, thickened by a good
half of chicory, was passing through the percolator with a singing
noise of large drops. One corner of the table was free; but the mother
only was eating there. The three children were satisfied with their
knees; and all the time the little boy with silent voracity looked,
without saying anything, at the chitterlings, excited by the greasy
paper.

Maheude was drinking her coffee in little sips, with her hands round
the glass to warm them, when Father Bonnemort came down. Usually
he rose late, and his breakfast waited for him on the fire. But
to-day he began to grumble because there was no soup. Then, when his
daughter-in-law said to him that one cannot always do what one likes,
he ate his potatoes in silence. From time to time he got up to spit in
the ashes for cleanliness, and, settled in his chair, he rolled his
food round in his mouth, with lowered head and dull eyes.

"Ah! I forgot, mother," said Alzire. "The neighbour came--"

Her mother interrupted her.

"She bothers me!"

There was a deep rancour against the Levaque woman, who had pleaded
poverty the day before to avoid lending her anything; while she knew
that she was just then in comfort, since her lodger, Bouteloup, had
paid his fortnight in advance. In the settlement they did not usually
lend from household to household.

"Here! you remind me," said Maheude. "Wrap up a millful of coffee. I
will take it to Pierronne; I owe it her from the day before yesterday."

And when her daughter had prepared the packet she added that she
would come back immediately to put the men's soup on the fire. Then
she went out with Estelle in her arms, leaving old Bonnemort to chew
his potatoes leisurely, while Lénore and Henri fought for the fallen
parings.

Instead of going round, Maheude went straight across through the
gardens, for fear lest Levaque's wife should call her. Her garden was
just next to that of the Pierrons, and in the dilapidated trellis-work
which separated them there was a hole through which they fraternized.
The common well was there, serving four households. Beside it, behind
a clump of feeble lilacs, was situated the shed, a low building full
of old tools, in which were brought up the rabbits which were eaten on
feast days. One o'clock struck; it was the hour for coffee, and not a
soul was to be seen at the doors or windows. Only a workman belonging
to the earth-cutting, waiting the hour for descent, was digging up his
patch of vegetable ground without raising his head. But as Maheude
arrived opposite the other block of buildings, she was surprised to see
a gentleman and two ladies in front of the church. She stopped a moment
and recognized them; it was Madame Hennebeau bringing her guests,
the decorated gentleman and the lady in the fur mantle, to see the
settlement.

"Oh! why did you take this trouble?" exclaimed Pierronne, when Maheude
had returned the coffee. "There was no hurry."

She was twenty-eight, and was considered the beauty of the settlement,
dark, with a low forehead, large eyes, straight mouth, and coquettish
as well; with the neatness of a cat, and with a good figure, for she
had had no children. Her mother, Brulé, the widow of a pikeman who
died in the mine, after having sent her daughter to work in a factory,
swearing that she should never marry a collier, had never ceased to be
angry since she had married, somewhat late, Pierron, a widower with a
girl of eight. However, the household lived very happily, in the midst
of chatter, of scandals which circulated concerning the husband's
complaisance and the wife's lovers. No debts, meat twice a week, a
house kept so clean that one could see oneself in the saucepans. As an
additional piece of luck, thanks to favours, the Company had authorized
her to sell bon-bons and biscuits, jars of which she exhibited, on two
boards, behind the window-panes. This was six or seven sous profit a
day, and sometimes twelve on Sundays. The only drawback to all this
happiness was Mother Brulé, who screamed with all the rage of an old
revolutionary, having to avenge the death of her man on the masters,
and little Lydie, who pocketed, in the shape of frequent blows, the
passions of the family.

"How big she is already!" said Pierronne, simpering at Estelle.

"Oh! the trouble that it gives! Don't talk of it!" said Maheude. "You
are lucky not to have any. At least you can keep clean."

Although everything was in order in her house, and she scrubbed every
Saturday, she glanced with a jealous housekeeper's eye over this clean
room, in which there was even a certain coquetry, gilt vases on the
sideboard, a mirror, three framed prints.

Pierronne was about to drink her coffee alone, all her people being at
the pit.

"You'll have a glass with me?" she said.

"No, thanks; I've just swallowed mine."

"What does that matter?"

In fact, it mattered nothing. And both began drinking slowly. Between
the jars of biscuits and bon-bons their eyes rested on the opposite
houses, of which the little curtains in the windows formed a row,
revealing by their greater or less whiteness the virtues of the
housekeepers. Those of the Levaques were very dirty, veritable kitchen
clouts, which seemed to have wiped the bottoms of the saucepans.

"How can they live in such dirt?" murmured Pierronne.

Then Maheude began and did not stop. Ah! if she had had a lodger like
that Bouteloup she would have made the household go. When one knew how
to do it, a lodger was an excellent thing. Only one ought not to sleep
with him. And then the husband had taken to drink, beat his wife, and
ran after the singers at the Montsou café-concerts.

Pierronne assumed an air of profound disgust. These singers gave all
sort of diseases. There was one at Joiselle who had infected a whole
pit.

"What surprises me is that you let your son go with their girl."

"Ah, yes! but just stop it then! Their garden is next to ours. Zacharie
was always there in summer with Philoméne behind the lilacs, and they
didn't put themselves out on the shed; one couldn't draw water at the
well without surprising them."

It was the usual history of the promiscuities of the settlement; boys
and girls became corrupted together, throwing themselves on their
backsides, as they said, on the low, sloping roof of the shed when
twilight came on. All the putters got their first child there when they
did not take the trouble to go to Réquillart or into the cornfields. It
was of no consequence; they married afterwards, only the mothers were
angry when their lads began too soon, for a lad who married no longer
brought anything into the family.

"In your place I would have done with it," said Pierronne, sensibly.
"Your Zacharie has already filled her twice, and they will go on and
get spliced. Anyhow, the money is gone."

Maheude was furious and raised her hands.

"Listen to this: I will curse them if they get spliced. Doesn't
Zacharie owe us any respect? He has cost us something, hasn't he? Very
well. He must return it before getting a wife to hang on him. What will
become of us, eh, if our children begin at once to work for others?
Might as well die!"

However, she grew calm.

"I'm speaking in a general way; we shall see later. It is fine and
strong, your coffee; you make it proper."

And after a quarter of an hour spent over other stories, she ran off,
exclaiming that the men's soup was not yet made. Outside, the children
were going back to school; a few women were showing themselves at
their doors, looking at Madame Hennebeau, who, with lifted finger, was
explaining the settlement to her guests. This visit began to stir up
the village. The earth-cutting man stopped digging for a moment, and
two disturbed fowls took fright in the gardens.

As Maheude returned, she ran against the Levaque woman who had come out
to stop Dr. Vanderhaghen, a doctor of the Company, a small hurried man,
overwhelmed by work, who gave his advice as he walked.

"Sir," she said, "I can't sleep; I feel ill everywhere. I must tell you
about it."

He spoke to them all familiarly, and replied without stopping:

"Just leave me alone; you drink too much coffee."

"And my husband, sir," said Maheude in her turn, "you must come and see
him. He always has those pains in his legs."

"It is you who take too much out of him. Just leave me alone!"

The two women were left to gaze at the doctor's retreating back.

"Come in, then," said the Levaque woman, when she had exchanged a
despairing shrug with her neighbour. "You know, there is something new.
And you will take a little coffee. It is quite fresh."

Maheude refused, but without energy. Well! a drop, at all events, not
to disoblige. And she entered.

The room was black with dirt, the floor and the walls spotted with
grease, the sideboard and the table sticky with filth; and the stink
of a badly kept house took you by the throat. Near the fire, with his
elbows on the table and his nose in his plate, Bouteloup, a broad stout
placid man, still young for thirty-five, was finishing the remains
of his boiled beef, while standing in front of him, little Achille,
Philoméne's first-born, who was already in his third year, was looking
at him in the silent, supplicating way of a gluttonous animal. The
lodger, very kind behind his big brown beard, from time to time stuffed
a piece of meat into his mouth.

"Wait till I sugar it," said the Levaque woman, putting some brown
sugar beforehand into the coffee-pot.

Six years older than he was, she was hideous and worn out, with her
bosom hanging on her belly, and her belly on her thighs, with a
flattened muzzle, and greyish hair always uncombed. He had taken her
naturally, without choosing, the same as he did his soup in which he
found hairs, or his bed of which the sheets lasted for three months.
She was part of the lodging; the husband liked repeating that good
reckonings make good friends.

"I was going to tell you," she went on, "that Pierronne was seen
yesterday prowling about on the Bas-de-Soie side. The gentleman you
know of was waiting for her behind Rasseneur's, and they went off
together along the canal. Eh! that's nice, isn't it? A married woman!"

"Gracious!" said Maheude; "Pierron, before marrying her, used to give
the captain rabbits; now it costs him less to lend his wife."

Bouteloup began to laugh enormously, and threw a fragment of sauced
bread into Achille's mouth. The two women went on relieving themselves
with regard to Pierronne--a flirt, no prettier than any one else, but
always occupied in looking after every freckle of her skin, in washing
herself, and putting on pomade. Anyhow, it was the husband's affair,
if he liked that sort of thing. There were men so ambitious that they
would wipe the masters' behinds to hear them say thank you. And they
were only interrupted by the arrival of a neighbour bringing in a
little urchin of nine months, Désirée, Philoméne's youngest; Philoméne,
taking her breakfast at the screening-shed, had arranged that they
should bring her little one down there, where she suckled it, seated
for a moment in the coal.

"I can't leave mine for a moment, she screams directly," said Maheude,
looking at Estelle, who was asleep in her arms.

But she did not succeed in avoiding the domestic affair which she had
read in the other's eyes.

"I say, now we ought to get that settled."

At first the two mothers, without need for talking about it, had agreed
not to conclude the marriage. If Zacharie's mother wished to get her
son's wages as long as possible, Philoméne's mother was enraged at the
idea of abandoning her daughter's wages. There was no hurry; the second
mother had even preferred to keep the little one, as long as there was
only one; but when it began to grow and eat and another one came, she
found that she was losing, and furiously pushed on the marriage, like a
woman who does not care to throw away her money.

"Zacharie has drawn his lot," she went on, "and there's nothing in the
way. When shall it be?"

"Wait till the fine weather," replied Maheude, constrainedly. "They
are a nuisance, these affairs! As if they couldn't wait to be married
before going together! My word! I would strangle Catherine if I knew
that she had done that."

The other woman shrugged her shoulders.

"Let be! she'll do like the others."

Bouteloup, with the tranquillity of a man who is at home, searched
about on the dresser for bread. Vegetables for Levaque's soup, potatoes
and leeks, lay about on a corner of the table, half-peeled, taken up
and dropped a dozen times in the midst of continual gossiping. The
woman was about to go on with them again when she dropped them anew and
planted herself before the window.

"What's that there? Why, there's Madame Hennebeau with some people.
They are going into Pierronne's."

At once both of them started again on the subject of Pierronne. Oh!
whenever the Company brought any visitors to the settlement they never
failed to go straight to her place, because it was clean. No doubt
they never told them stories about the head captain. One can afford to
be clean when one has lovers who earn three thousand francs, and are
lodged and warmed, without counting presents. If it was clean above it
was not clean underneath. And all the time that the visitors remained
opposite, they went on chattering.

"There, they are coming out," said the Levaque woman at last. "They are
going all around. Why, look, my dear--I believe they are going into
your place."

Maheude was seized with fear. Who knows whether Alzire had sponged over
the table? And her soup, also, which was not yet ready! She stammered a
good-day, and ran off home without a single glance aside.

But everything was bright. Alzire, very seriously, with a cloth in
front of her, had set about making the soup, seeing that her mother did
not return. She had pulled up the last leeks from the garden, gathered
the sorrel, and was just then cleaning the vegetables, while a large
kettle on the fire was heating the water for the men's baths when they
should return. Henri and Lénore were good for once, being absorbed in
tearing up an old almanac. Father Bonnemort was smoking his pipe in
silence. As Maheude was getting her breath Madame Hennebeau knocked.

"You will allow me, will you not, my good woman?"

Tall and fair, a little heavy in her superb maturity of forty
years, she smiled with an effort of affability, without showing too
prominently her fear of soiling her bronze silk dress and black velvet
mantle.

"Come in, come in," she said to her guests. "We are not disturbing
any one. Now, isn't this clean again! And this good woman has seven
children! All our households are like this. I ought to explain to you
that the Company rents them the house at six francs a month. A large
room on the ground floor, two rooms above, a cellar, and a garden."

The decorated gentleman and the lady in the fur cloak, arrived that
morning by train from Paris, opened their eyes vaguely, exhibiting on
their faces their astonishment at all these new things which took them
out of their element.

"And a garden!" repeated the lady. "One could live here! It is
charming!"

"We give them more coal than they can burn," went on Madame Hennebeau.
"A doctor visits them twice a week; and when they are old they receive
pensions, although nothing is held back from their wages."

"A Thebaid! a real land of milk and honey!" murmured the gentleman in
delight.

Maheude had hastened to offer chairs. The ladies refused. Madame
Hennebeau was already getting tired, happy for a moment to amuse
herself in the weariness of her exile by playing the part of exhibiting
the beasts, but immediately disgusted by the sickly odour of
wretchedness, in spite of the special cleanliness of the houses into
which she ventured. Besides, she was only repeating odd phrases which
she had overheard, without ever troubling herself further about this
race of workpeople who were labouring and suffering beside her.

"What beautiful children!" murmured the lady, who thought them hideous,
with their large heads beneath their bushy, straw-coloured hair.

And Maheude had to tell their ages; they also asked her questions about
Estelle, out of politeness. Father Bonnemort respectfully took his pipe
out of his mouth; but he was not the less a subject of uneasiness, so
worn out by his forty years underground, with his stiff limbs, deformed
body, and earthy face; and as a violent spasm of coughing took him
he preferred to go and spit outside, with the idea that his black
expectoration would make people uncomfortable.

Alzire received all the compliments. What an excellent little
housekeeper, with her cloth! They congratulated the mother on having a
little daughter so sensible for her age. And none spoke of the hump,
though looks of uneasy compassion were constantly turned towards the
poor little invalid.

"Now!" concluded Madame Hennebeau, "if they ask you about our
settlements at Paris you will know what to reply. Never more noise than
this, patriarchal manners, all happy and well off as you see, a place
where you might come to recruit a little, on account of the good air
and the tranquillity."

"It is marvellous, marvellous!" exclaimed the gentleman, in a final
outburst of enthusiasm.

They left with that enchanted air with which people leave a booth in
a fair, and Maheude, who accompanied them, remained on the threshold
while they went away slowly, talking very loudly. The streets were
full of people, and they had to pass through several groups of women,
attracted by the news of their visit, which was hawked from house to
house.

Just then, Levaque, in front of her door, had stopped Pierronne, who
was drawn by curiosity. Both of them affected a painful surprise. What
now? Were these people going to bed at the Maheus'? But it was not so
very delightful a place.

"Always without a sou, with all that they earn! Lord! when people have
vices!"

"I have just heard that she went this morning to beg at Piolaine, and
Maigrat, who had refused them bread, has given them something. We know
how Maigrat pays himself!"

"On her? Oh, no! that would need some courage. It's Catherine that he's
after."

"Why, didn't she have the cheek to say just now that she would strangle
Catherine if she were to come to that? As if big Chaval for ever so
long had not put her backside on the shed!"

"Hush! here they are!"

Then Levaque and Pierronne, with a peaceful air and without impolite
curiosity, contented themselves with watching the visitors out of the
corners of their eyes. Then by a gesture they quickly called Maheude,
who was still carrying Estelle in her arms. And all three, motionless,
watched the well-clad backs of Madame Hennebeau and her guests slowly
disappear. When they were some thirty paces off, the gossiping
recommenced with redoubled vigour.

"They carry plenty of money on their skins; worth more than themselves,
perhaps."

"Ah, sure! I don't know the other, but the one that belongs here, I
wouldn't give four sous for her, big as she is. They do tell stories--"

"Eh? What stories?"

"Why, she has men! First, the engineer."

"That lean, little creature! Oh, he's too small! She would lose him in
the sheets."

"What does that matter, if it amuses her? I don't trust a woman who
puts on such proud airs and never seems to be pleased where she is.
Just look how she wags her rump, as if she felt contempt for us all. Is
that nice?"

The visitors went along at the same slow pace, still talking, when a
carriage stopped in the road, before the church. A gentleman of about
forty-eight got out of it, dressed in a black frock-coat, and with a
very dark complexion and an authoritative, correct expression.

"The husband," murmured Levaque, lowering her voice, as if he could
hear her, seized by that hierarchical fear which the manager inspired
in his ten thousand workpeople. "It's true, though, that he has a
cuckold's head, that man."

Now the whole settlement was out of doors. The curiosity of the women
increased. The groups approached each other, and were melted into one
crowd; while bands of urchins, with unwiped noses and gaping mouths,
dawdled along the pavements. For a moment the schoolmaster's pale head
was also seen behind the school-house hedge. Among the gardens, the
man who was digging stood with one foot on his spade, and with rounded
eyes. And the murmur of gossiping gradually increased, with a sound of
rattles, like a gust of wind among dry leaves.

It was especially before the Levaques' door that the crowd was
thickest. Two women had come forward, then ten, then twenty. Pierronne
was prudently silent now that there were too many ears about. Maheude,
one of the more reasonable, also contented herself with looking on;
and to calm Estelle, who was awake and screaming, she had tranquilly
drawn out her suckling animal's breast, which hung swaying as if pulled
down by the continual running of its milk. When M. Hennebeau had
seated the ladies in the carriage, which went off in the direction of
Marchiennes, there was a final explosion of clattering voices, all the
women gesticulating and talking in each other's faces in the midst of a
tumult as of an ant-hill in revolution.

But three o'clock struck. The workers of the earth-cutting, Bouteloup
and the others, had set out. Suddenly around the church appeared
the first colliers returning from the pit with black faces and damp
garments, folding their arms and expanding their backs. Then there was
confusion among the women: they all began to run home with the terror
of housekeepers who had been led astray by too much coffee and too much
tattle, and one heard nothing more than this restless cry, pregnant
with quarrels:

"Good Lord, and my soup! and my soup which isn't ready!"



CHAPTER IV


When Maheu came in after having left Étienne at Rasseneur's, he found
Catherine, Zacharie, and Jeanlin seated at the table finishing their
soup. On returning from the pit they were always so hungry that they
ate in their damp clothes, without even cleaning themselves; and no one
was waited for, the table was laid from morning to night; there was
always someone there swallowing his portion, according to the chances
of work.

As he entered the door Maheu saw the provisions. He said nothing,
but his uneasy face lighted up. All the morning the emptiness of the
cupboard, the thought of the house without coffee and without butter,
had been troubling him; the recollection came to him painfully while he
was hammering at the seam, stifled at the bottom of the cutting. What
would his wife do, and what would become of them if she were to return
with empty hands? And now, here was everything! She would tell him
about it later on. He laughed with satisfaction.

Catherine and Jeanlin had risen, and were taking their coffee standing;
while Zacharie, not filled with the soup, cut himself a large slice of
bread and covered it with butter. Although he saw the chitterlings on
a plate he did not touch them, for meat was for the father, when there
was only enough for one. All of them had washed down their soup with a
big bumper of fresh water, the good, clear drink of the fortnight's end.

"I have no beer," said Maheude, when the father had seated himself in
his turn. "I wanted to keep a little money. But if you would like some
the little one can go and fetch a pint."

He looked at her in astonishment. What! she had money, too!

"No, no," he said, "I've had a glass, it's all right."

And Maheu began to swallow by slow spoonfuls the paste of bread,
potatoes, leeks, and sorrel piled up in the bowl which served him as a
plate. Maheude, without putting Estelle down, helped Alzire to give him
all that he required, pushed near him the butter and the meat, and put
his coffee on the fire to keep it quite hot.

In the meanwhile, beside the fire, they began to wash themselves in
the half of a barrel transformed into a tub. Catherine, whose turn
came first, had filled it with warm water; and she undressed herself
tranquilly, took off her cap, her jacket, her breeches, and even her
chemise, habituated to this since the age of eight, having grown up
without seeing any harm in it. She only turned with her stomach to the
fire, then rubbed herself vigorously with black soap. No one looked
at her, even Lénore and Henri were no longer inquisitive to see how
she was made. When she was clean she went up the stairs quite naked,
leaving her damp chemise and other garments in a heap on the floor. But
a quarrel broke out between the two brothers: Jeanlin had hastened to
jump into the tub under the pretence that Zacharie was still eating;
and the latter hustled him, claiming his turn, and calling out that he
was polite enough to allow Catherine to wash herself first, but he did
not wish to have the rinsings of the young urchins, all the less since,
when Jeanlin had been in, it would do to fill the school ink-pots. They
ended by washing themselves together, also turning towards the fire,
and they even helped each other, rubbing one another's backs. Then,
like their sister, they disappeared up the staircase naked.

"What a slop they do make!" murmured Maheude, taking up their garments
from the floor to put them to dry. "Alzire, just sponge up a bit."

But a disturbance on the other side of the wall cut short her speech.
One heard a man's oaths, a woman's crying, a whole stampede of battle,
with hollow blows that sounded like the shock of an empty gourd.

"Levaque's wife is catching it," Maheu peacefully stated as he scraped
the bottom of his bowl with the spoon. "It's queer; Bouteloup made out
that the soup was ready."

"Ah, yes! ready," said Maheude. "I saw the vegetables on the table, not
even cleaned."

The cries redoubled, and there was a terrible push which shook the
wall, followed by complete silence. Then the miner, swallowing the last
spoonful, concluded, with an air of calm justice:

"If the soup is not ready, one can understand."

And after having drunk a glassful of water, he attacked the
chitterlings. He cut square pieces, stuck the point of his knife into
them and ate them on his bread without a fork. There was no talking
when the father was eating. He himself was hungry in silence; he did
not recognize the usual taste of Maigrat's provisions; this must come
from somewhere else; however, he put no question to his wife. He only
asked if the old man was still sleeping upstairs. No, the grandfather
had gone out for his usual walk. And there was silence again.

But the odour of the meat made Lénore and Henri lift up their heads
from the floor, where they were amusing themselves with making rivulets
with the spilt water. Both of them came and planted themselves near
their father, the little one in front. Their eyes followed each
morsel, full of hope when it set out from the plate and with an air of
consternation when it was engulfed in the mouth. At last the father
noticed the gluttonous desire which made their faces pale and their
lips moist.

"Have the children had any of it?" he asked.

And as his wife hesitated:

"You know I don't like injustice. It takes away my appetite when I see
them there, begging for bits."

"But they've had some of it," she exclaimed, angrily. "If you were to
listen to them you might give them your share and the others', too;
they would fill themselves till they burst. Isn't it true, Alzire, that
we have all had some?"

"Sure enough, mother," replied the little humpback, who under such
circumstances could tell lies with the self-possession of a grown-up
person.

Lénore and Henri stood motionless, shocked and rebellious at such
lying, when they themselves were whipped if they did not tell the
truth. Their little hearts began to swell, and they longed to protest,
and to say that they, at all events, were not there when the others had
some.

"Get along with you," said the mother, driving them to the other end
of the room. "You ought to be ashamed of being always in your father's
plate; and even if he was the only one to have any, doesn't he work,
while all you, a lot of good-for-nothings, can't do anything but spend!
Yes, and the more the bigger you are."

Maheu called them back. He seated Lénore on his left thigh, Henri on
the right; then he finished the chitterlings by playing at dinner
with them. He cut small pieces, and each had his share. The children
devoured with delight.

When he had finished, he said to his wife:

"No, don't give me my coffee. I'm going to wash first; and just give me
a hand to throw away this dirty water."

They took hold of the handles of the tub and emptied it into the gutter
before the door, when Jeanlin came down in dry garments, breeches and
a woollen blouse, too large for him, which were weary of fading on his
brother's back. Seeing him slinking out through the open door, his
mother stopped him.

"Where are you off to?"

"Over there."

"Over where? Listen to me. You go and gather a dandelion salad for this
evening. Eh, do you hear? If you don't bring a salad back you'll have
to deal with me."

"All right!"

Jeanlin set out with hands in his pockets, trailing his sabots and
slouching along, with his slender loins of a ten-year-old urchin, like
an old miner. In his turn, Zacharie came down, more carefully dressed,
his body covered by a black woollen knitted jacket with blue stripes.
His father called out to him not to return late; and he left, nodding
his head with his pipe between his teeth, without replying. Again the
tub was filled with warm water. Maheu was already slowly taking off his
jacket. At a look, Alzire led Lénore and Henri outside to play. The
father did not like washing _en famille_, as was practised in many
houses in the settlement. He blamed no one, however; he simply said
that it was good for the children to dabble together.

"What are you doing up there?" cried Maheude, up the staircase.

"I'm mending my dress that I tore yesterday," replied Catherine.

"All right. Don't come down, your father is washing."

Then Maheu and Maheude were left alone. The latter decided to place
Estelle on a chair, and by a miracle, finding herself near the fire the
child did not scream, but turned towards her parents the vague eyes of
a little creature without intelligence. He was crouching before the tub
quite naked, having first plunged his head into it, well rubbed with
that black soap the constant use of which discoloured and made yellow
the hair of the race. Afterwards he got into the water, lathered his
chest, belly, arms, and thighs, scraping them energetically with both
fists. His wife, standing by, watched him.

"Well, then," she began, "I saw your eyes when you came in. You were
bothered, eh? and it eased you, those provisions. Fancy! those Piolaine
people didn't give me a sou! Oh! they are kind enough; they have
dressed the little ones and I was ashamed to ask them, for it crosses
me to ask for things."

She interrupted herself a moment to wedge Estelle into the chair lest
she should tip over. The father continued to work away at his skin,
without hastening by a question this story which interested him,
patiently waiting for light.

"I must tell you that Maigrat had refused me, oh! straight! like one
kicks a dog out of doors. Guess if I was on a spree! They keep you
warm, woollen garments, but they don't put anything into your stomach,
eh!"

He lifted his head, still silent. Nothing at Piolaine, nothing at
Maigrat's: then where? But, as usual, she was pulling up her sleeves to
wash his back and those parts which he could not himself easily reach.
Besides, he liked her to soap him, to rub him everywhere till she
almost broke her wrists. She took soap and worked away at his shoulders
while he held himself stiff so as to resist the shock.

"Then I returned to Maigrat's, and said to him, ah, I said something to
him! And that it didn't do to have no heart, and that evil would happen
to him if there were any justice. That bothered him; he turned his eyes
and would like to have got away."

From the back she had got down to the buttocks and was pushing into the
folds, not leaving any part of the body without passing over it, making
him shine like her three saucepans on Saturdays after a big clean.
Only she began to sweat with this tremendous exertion of her arms, so
exhausted and out of breath that her words were choked.

"At last he called me an old nuisance. We shall have bread until
Saturday, and the best is that he has lent me five francs. I have got
butter, coffee, and chicory from him. I was even going to get the meat
and potatoes there, only I saw that he was grumbling. Seven sous for
the chitterlings, eighteen for the potatoes, and I've got three francs
seventy-five left for a ragout and a meat soup. Eh, I don't think I've
wasted my morning!"

Now she began to wipe him, plugging with a towel the parts that would
not dry. Feeling happy and without thinking of the future debt, he
burst out laughing and took her in his arms.

"Leave me alone, stupid! You are damp, and wetting me. Only I'm afraid
Maigrat has ideas----"

She was about to speak of Catherine, but she stopped. What was the good
of disturbing him? It would only lead to endless discussion.

"What ideas?" he asked.

"Why, ideas of robbing us. Catherine will have to examine the bill
carefully."

He took her in his arms again, and this time did not let her go.
The bath always finished in this way: she enlivened him by the hard
rubbing, and then by the towels which tickled the hairs of his arms
and chest. Besides, among all his mates of the settlement it was the
hour for stupidities, when more children were planted than were wanted.
At night all the family were about. He pushed her towards the table,
jesting like a worthy man who was enjoying the only good moment of the
day, calling that taking his dessert, and a dessert which cost him
nothing. She, with her loose figure and breast, struggled a little for
fun.

"You are stupid! My Lord! you are stupid! And there's Estelle looking
at us. Wait till I turn her head."

"Oh, bosh! at three months; as if she understood!"

When he got up Maheu simply put on a dry pair of breeches. He liked,
when he was clean and had taken his pleasure with his wife, to remain
naked for a while. On his white skin, the whiteness of an anaemic girl,
the scratches and gashes of the coal left tattoo-marks, grafts as the
miners called them; and he was proud of them, and exhibited his big
arms and broad chest shining like veined marble. In summer all the
miners could be seen in this condition at their doors. He even went
there for a moment now, in spite of the wet weather, and shouted out a
rough joke to a comrade, whose breast was also naked, on the other side
of the gardens. Others also appeared. And the children, trailing along
the pathways, raised their heads and also laughed with delight at all
this weary flesh of workers displayed in the open air.

While drinking his coffee, without yet putting on a shirt, Maheu
told his wife about the engineer's anger over the planking. He was
calm and unbent, and listened with a nod of approval to the sensible
advice of Maheude, who showed much common sense in such affairs. She
always repeated to him that nothing was gained by struggling against
the Company. She afterwards told him about Madame Hennebeau's visit.
Without saying so, both of them were proud of this.

"Can I come down yet?" asked Catherine, from the top of the staircase.

"Yes, yes; your father is drying himself."

The young girl had put on her Sunday dress, an old frock of rough blue
poplin, already faded and worn in the folds. She had on a very simple
bonnet of black tulle.

"Hallo! you're dressed. Where are you going to?"

"I'm going to Montsou to buy a ribbon for my bonnet. I've taken off the
old one; it was too dirty."

"Have you got money, then?"

"No! but Mouquette promised to lend me half a franc."

The mother let her go. But at the door she called her back.

"Here! don't go and buy that ribbon at Maigrat's. He will rob you, and
he will think that we are rolling in wealth."

The father, who was crouching down before the fire to dry his neck and
shoulders more quickly, contented himself with adding:

"Try not to dawdle about at night on the road."

In the afternoon, Maheu worked in his garden. Already he had sown
potatoes, beans, and peas; and he now set about replanting cabbage and
lettuce plants, which he had kept fresh from the night before. This bit
of garden furnished them with vegetables, except potatoes of which they
never had enough. He understood gardening very well, and could even
grow artichokes, which was treated as sheer display by the neighbours.
As he was preparing the bed, Levaque just then came out to smoke a
pipe in his own square, looking at the cos lettuces which Bouteloup
had planted in the morning; for without the lodger's energy in digging
nothing would have grown there but nettles. And a conversation arose
over the trellis. Levaque, refreshed and excited by thrashing his wife,
vainly tried to take Maheu off to Rasseneur's. Why, was he afraid of
a glass? They could have a game at skittles, lounge about for a while
with the mates, and then come back to dinner. That was the way of life
after leaving the pit. No doubt there was no harm in that, but Maheu
was obstinate; if he did not replant his lettuces they would be faded
by to-morrow. In reality he refused out of good sense, not wishing to
ask a farthing from his wife out of the change of the five-franc piece.

Five o'clock was striking when Pierronne came to know if it was with
Jeanlin that her Lydie had gone off. Levaque replied that it must be
something of that sort, for Bébert had also disappeared, and those
rascals always went prowling about together. When Maheu had quieted
them by speaking of the dandelion salad, he and his comrade set about
joking the young woman with the coarseness of good-natured devils.
She was angry, but did not go away, in reality tickled by the strong
words which made her scream with her hands to her sides. A lean woman
came to her aid, stammering with anger like a clucking hen. Others
in the distance on their doorsteps confided their alarms. Now the
school was closed; and all the children were running about, there was
a swarm of little creatures shouting and tumbling and fighting; while
those fathers who were not at the public-house were resting in groups
of three or four, crouching on their heels as they did in the mine,
smoking their pipes with an occasional word in the shelter of a wall.
Pierronne went off in a fury when Levaque wanted to feel if her thighs
were firm; and he himself decided to go alone to Rasseneur's, since
Maheu was still planting.

Twilight suddenly came on; Maheude lit the lamp, irritated because
neither her daughter nor the boys had come back. She could have guessed
as much; they never succeeded in taking together the only meal of the
day at which it was possible for them to be all round the table. Then
she was waiting for the dandelion salad. What could he be gathering
at this hour, in this blackness of an oven, that nuisance of a child!
A salad would go so well with the stew which was simmering on the
fire--potatoes, leeks, sorrel, fricasseed with fried onion. The whole
house smelt of that fried onion, that good odour which gets rank so
soon, and which penetrates the bricks of the settlements with such
infection that one perceives it far off in the country, the violent
flavour of the poor man's kitchen.

Maheu, when he left the garden at nightfall, at once fell into a chair
with his head against the wall. As soon as he sat down in the evening
he went to sleep. The clock struck seven; Henri and Lénore had just
broken a plate in persisting in helping Alzire, who was laying the
table, when Father Bonnemort came in first, in a hurry to dine and go
back to the pit. Then Maheude woke up Maheu.

"Come and eat! So much the worse! They are big enough to find the
house. The nuisance is the salad!"



CHAPTER V


At Rasseneur's, after having eaten his soup, Étienne went back into
the small chamber beneath the roof and facing the Voreux, which he was
to occupy, and fell on to his bed dressed as he was, overcome with
fatigue. In two days he had not slept four hours. When he awoke in the
twilight he was dazed for a moment, not recognizing his surroundings;
and he felt such uneasiness and his head was so heavy that he rose,
painfully, with the idea of getting some fresh air before having his
dinner and going to bed for the night.

Outside, the weather was becoming milder: the sooty sky was growing
copper-coloured, laden with one of those warm rains of the Nord, the
approach of which one feels by the moist warmth of the air, and the
night was coming on in great mists which drowned the distant landscape
of the plain. Over this immense sea of reddish earth the low sky seemed
to melt into black dust, without a breath of wind now to animate the
darkness. It was the wan and deathly melancholy of a funeral.

Étienne walked straight ahead at random, with no other aim but to shake
off his fever. When he passed before the Voreux, already growing gloomy
at the bottom of its hole and with no lantern yet shining from it, he
stopped a moment to watch the departure of the day-workers. No doubt
six o'clock had struck; landers, porters from the pit-eye, and grooms
were going away in bands, mixed with the vague and laughing figures of
the screening girls in the shade.

At first it was Brulé and her son-in-law, Pierron. She was abusing him
because he had not supported her in a quarrel with an overseer over her
reckoning of stones.

"Get along! damned good-for-nothing! Do you call yourself a man to
lower yourself like that before one of these beasts who devour us?"

Pierron followed her peacefully, without replying. At last he said:

"I suppose I ought to jump on the boss? Thanks for showing me how to
get into a mess!"

"Bend your backside to him, then," she shouted. "By God! if my daughter
had listened to me! It's not enough for them to kill the father.
Perhaps you'd like me to say 'thank you.' No, I'll have their skins
first!"

Their voices were lost. Étienne saw her disappear, with her eagle nose,
her flying white hair, her long, lean arms that gesticulated furiously.
But the conversation of two young people behind caused him to listen.
He had recognized Zacharie, who was waiting there, and who had just
been addressed by his friend Mouquet.

"Are you here?" said the latter. "We will have something to eat, and
then off to the Volcan."

"Directly. I've something to attend to."

"What, then?"

The lander turned and saw Philoméne coming out of the screening-shed.
He thought he understood.

"Very well, if it's that. Then I go ahead."

"Yes, I'll catch you up."

As he went away, Mouquet met his father, old Mouque, who was also
coming out of the Voreux. The two men simply wished each other good
evening, the son taking the main road while the father went along by
the canal.

Zacharie was already pushing Philoméne in spite of her resistance into
the same solitary path. She was in a hurry, another time; and the two
wrangled like old housemates. There was no fun in only seeing one
another out of doors, especially in winter, when the earth is moist and
there are no wheatfields to lie in.

"No, no, it's not that," he whispered impatiently. "I've something to
say to you." He led her gently with his arm round her waist. Then, when
they were in the shadow of the pit-bank, he asked if she had any money.

"What for?" she demanded.

Then he became confused, spoke of a debt of two francs which had
reduced his family to despair.

"Hold your tongue! I've seen Mouquet; you're going again to the Volcan
with him, where those dirty singer-women are."

He defended himself, struck his chest, gave his word of honour. Then,
as she shrugged her shoulders, he said suddenly:

"Come with us if it will amuse you. You see that you don't put me out.
What do I want to do with the singers? Will you come?"

"And the little one?" she replied. "How can one stir with a child
that's always screaming? Let me go back, I guess they're not getting on
at the house."

But he held her and entreated. See! it was only not to look foolish
before Mouquet to whom he had promised. A man could not go to bed every
evening like the fowls. She was overcome, and pulled up the skirt of
her gown; with her nail she cut the thread and drew out some half-franc
pieces from a corner of the hem. For fear of being robbed by her mother
she hid there the profit of the overtime work she did at the pit.

"I've got five, you see," she said, "I'll give you three. Only you must
swear that you'll make your mother decide to let us marry. We've had
enough of this life in the open air. And mother reproaches me for every
mouthful I eat. Swear first."

She spoke with the soft voice of a big, delicate girl, without passion,
simply tired of her life. He swore, exclaimed that it was a sacred
promise; then, when he had got the three pieces, he kissed her, tickled
her, made her laugh, and would have pushed things to an extreme in
this corner of the pit-bank, which was the winter chamber of their
household, if she had not again refused, saying that it would not give
her any pleasure. She went back to the settlement alone, while he cut
across the fields to rejoin his companion.

Étienne had followed them mechanically, from afar, without
understanding, regarding it as a simple rendezvous. The girls were
precocious in the pits; and he recalled the Lille work-girls whom he
had waited for behind the factories, those bands of girls, corrupted at
fourteen, in the abandonment of their wretchedness. But another meeting
surprised him more. He stopped.

At the bottom of the pit-bank, in a hollow into which some large stones
had slipped, little Jeanlin was violently snubbing Lydie and Bébert,
seated one at his right, the other at his left.

"What do you say? Eh? I'll slap each of you if you want more. Who
thought of it first, eh?"

In fact, Jeanlin had had an idea. After having roamed about in the
meadows, along the canal, for an hour, gathering dandelions with the
two others, it had occurred to him, before this pile of salad, that
they would never eat all that at home; and instead of going back to the
settlement he had gone to Montsou, keeping Bébert to watch, and making
Lydie ring at the houses and offer the dandelions. He was experienced
enough to know that, as he said, girls could sell what they liked.
In the ardour of business, the entire pile had disappeared; but the
girl had gained eleven sous. And now, with empty hands, the three were
dividing the profits.

"That's not fair!" Bébert declared. "Must divide into three. If you
keep seven sous we shall only have two each."

"What? not fair!" replied Jeanlin furiously. "I gathered more first of
all."

The other usually submitted with timid admiration and a credulity which
always made him the dupe. Though older and stronger, he even allowed
himself to be struck. But this time the sight of all that money excited
him to rebellion.

"He's robbing us, Lydie, isn't he? If he doesn't share, we'll tell his
mother."

Jeanlin at once thrust his fist beneath the other's nose.

"Say that again! I'll go and say at your house that you sold my
mother's salad. And then, you silly beast, how can I divide eleven
sous into three? Just try and see, if you're so clever. Here are your
two sous each. Just look sharp and take them, or I'll put them in my
pocket."

Bébert was vanquished and accepted the two sous. Lydie, who was
trembling, had said nothing, for with Jeanlin she experienced the fear
and the tenderness of a little beaten woman. When he held out the two
sous to her she advanced her hand with a submissive laugh. But he
suddenly changed his mind.

"Eh! what will you do with all that? Your mother will nab them, sure
enough, if you don't know how to hide them from her. I'd better keep
them for you. When you want money you can ask me for it."

And the nine sous disappeared. To shut her mouth he had put his arms
around her laughingly and was rolling with her over the pit-bank. She
was his little wife, and in the dark corners they used to try together
the love which they heard and saw in their homes behind partitions,
through the cracks of doors. They knew everything, but they were able
to do nothing, being too young, fumbling and playing for hours at the
games of vicious puppies. He called that playing at papa and mama; and
when he chased her she ran away and let herself be caught with the
delicious trembling of instinct, often angry, but always yielding, in
the expectation of something which never came.

As Bébert was not admitted to these games and received a cuffing
whenever he wanted to touch Lydie, he was always constrained, agitated
by anger and uneasiness when the other two were amusing themselves,
which they did not hesitate to do in his presence. His one idea,
therefore, was to frighten them and disturb them, calling out that
someone could see them.

"It's all up! There's a man looking."

This time he told the truth; it was Étienne, who had decided to
continue his walk. The children jumped up and ran away, and he passed
by round the bank, following the canal, amused at the terror of these
little rascals. No doubt it was too early at their age, but they saw
and heard so much that one would have to tie them up to restrain them.
Yet Étienne became sad.

A hundred paces farther on he came across more couples. He had arrived
at Réquillart, and there, around the old ruined mine, all the girls of
Montsou prowled about with their lovers. It was the common rendezvous,
the remote and deserted spot to which the putters came to get their
first child when they dared not risk the shed. The broken palings
opened to every one the old yard, now become a nondescript piece of
ground, obstructed by the ruins of the two sheds which had fallen
in, and by the skeletons of the large buttresses which were still
standing. Derelict trams were lying about, and piles of old rotting
wood, while a dense vegetation was reconquering this corner of ground,
displaying itself in thick grass, and springing up in young trees that
were already vigorous. Every girl found herself at home here; there
were concealed holes for all; their lovers placed them over beams,
behind the timber, in the trams; they even lay elbow to elbow without
troubling about their neighbours. And it seemed that around this
extinguished engine, near this shaft weary of disgorging coal, there
was a revenge of creation in the free love which, beneath the lash of
instinct, planted children in the bellies of these girls who were yet
hardly women.

Yet a caretaker lived there, old Mouque, to whom the Company had given
up, almost beneath the destroyed tower, two rooms which were constantly
threatened by destruction from the expected fall of the last walls.
He had even been obliged to shore up a part of the roof, and he lived
there very comfortably with his family, he and Mouquet in one room,
Mouquette in the other. As the windows no longer possessed a single
pane, he had decided to close them by nailing up boards; one could
not see well, but it was warm. For the rest, this caretaker cared for
nothing: he went to look after his horses at the Voreux, and never
troubled himself about the ruins of Réquillart, of which the shaft
only was preserved, in order to serve as a chimney for a fire which
ventilated the neighbouring pit.

It was thus that Father Mouque was ending his old age in the midst of
love. Ever since she was ten Mouquette had been lying about in all the
corners of the ruins, not as a timid and still green little urchin
like Lydie, but as a girl who was already big, and a mate for bearded
lads. The father had nothing to say, for she was considerate, and
never introduced a lover into the house. Then he was used to this sort
of accident. When he went to the Voreux, when he came back, whenever
he came out of his hole, he could scarcely put a foot down without
treading on a couple in the grass; and it was worse if he wanted to
gather wood to heat his soup or look for burdocks for his rabbit at
the other end of the enclosure. Then he saw one by one the voluptuous
noses of all the girls of Montsou rising up around him, while he had
to be careful not to knock against the limbs stretched out level with
the paths. Besides, these meetings had gradually ceased to disturb
either him who was simply taking care not to stumble, or the girls whom
he allowed to finish their affairs, going away with discreet little
steps like a worthy man who was at peace with the ways of nature. Only
just as they now knew him he at last also knew them, as one knows the
rascally magpies who become corrupted in the pear-trees in the garden.
Ah! youth! youth! how it goes on, how wild it is! Sometimes he wagged
his chin with silent regret, turning away from the noisy wantons who
were breathing too loudly in the darkness. Only one thing put him out
of temper: two lovers had acquired the bad habit of embracing outside
his wall. It was not that it prevented him from sleeping, but they
leaned against the wall so heavily that at last they damaged it.

Every evening old Mouque received a visit from his friend, Father
Bonnemort, who regularly before dinner took the same walk. The two old
men spoke little, scarcely exchanging ten words during the half-hour
that they spent together. But it cheered them thus to think over the
days of old, to chew their recollections over again without need to
talk of them. At Réquillart they sat on a beam side by side, saying a
word and then sinking into their dreams, with faces bent towards the
earth. No doubt they were becoming young again. Around them lovers
were turning over their sweethearts; there was a murmur of kisses and
laughter; the warm odour of the girls arose in the freshness of the
trodden grass. It was now forty-three years since Father Bonnemort had
taken his wife behind the pit; she was a putter, so slight that he had
placed her on a tram to embrace her at ease. Ah! those were fine days.
And the two old men, shaking their heads, at last left each other,
often without saying good night.

That evening, however, as Étienne arrived, Father Bonnemort, who was
getting up from the beam to return to the settlement, said to Mouque:

"Good night, old man. I say, you knew Roussie?"

Mouque was silent for a moment, rocked his shoulders; then, returning
to the house:

"Good night, good night, old man."

Étienne came and sat on the beam, in his turn. His sadness was
increasing, though he could not tell why. The old man, whose
disappearing back he watched, recalled his arrival in the morning,
and the flood of words which the piercing wind had dragged from his
silence. What wretchedness! And all these girls, worn out with fatigue,
who were still stupid enough in the evening to fabricate little ones,
to yield flesh for labour and suffering! It would never come to an end
if they were always filling themselves with starvelings. Would it not
be better if they were to shut up their bellies, and press their thighs
together, as at the approach of misfortune? Perhaps these gloomy ideas
only stirred confusedly in him because he was alone, while all the
others at this hour were going about taking their pleasure in couples.
The mild weather stifled him a little, occasional drops of rain fell on
his feverish hands. Yes, they all came to it; it was something stronger
than reason.

Just then, as Étienne remained seated motionless in the shadow, a
couple who came down from Montsou rustled against him without seeing
him as they entered the uneven Réquillart ground. The girl, certainly a
virgin, was struggling and resisting with low whispered supplications,
while the lad in silence was pushing her towards the darkness of a
corner of the shed, still upright, under which there were piles of
old mouldy rope. It was Catherine and big Chaval. But Étienne had not
recognized them in passing, and his eyes followed them; he was watching
for the end of the story, touched by a sensuality which changed the
course of his thoughts. Why should he interfere? When girls refuse it
is because they like first to be forced.

On leaving the settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante Catherine had gone
to Montsou along the road. From the age of ten, since she had earned
her living at the pit, she went about the country alone in the complete
liberty of the colliers' families; and if no man had possessed her at
fifteen it was owing to the tardy awakening of her puberty, the crisis
of which had not yet arrived. When she was in front of the Company's
Yards she crossed the road and entered a laundress's where she was
certain to find Mouquette; for the latter stayed there from morning
till night, among women who treated each other with coffee all round.
But she was disappointed; Mouquette had just then been regaling them in
her turn so thoroughly that she was not able to lend the half-franc she
had promised. To console her they vainly offered a glass of hot coffee.
She was not even willing that her companion should borrow from another
woman. An idea of economy had come to her, a sort of superstitious
fear, the certainty that that ribbon would bring her bad luck if she
were to buy it now.

She hastened to regain the road to the settlement, and had reached the
last houses of Montsou when a man at the door of the Piquette Estaminet
called her:

"Eh! Catherine! where are you off to so quick?"

It was lanky Chaval. She was vexed, not because he displeased her, but
because she was not inclined to joke.

"Come in and have a drink. A little glass of sweet, won't you?"

She refused politely; the night was coming on, they were expecting her
at home. He had advanced, and was entreating her in a low voice in the
middle of the road. It had been his idea for a long time to persuade
her to come up to the room which he occupied on the first story of the
Estaminet Piquette, a fine room for a household, with a large bed. Did
he frighten her, that she always refused? She laughed good-naturedly,
and said that she would come up some day when children didn't grow.
Then, one thing leading to another, she told him, without knowing how,
about the blue ribbon which she had not been able to buy.

"But I'll pay for it," he exclaimed.

She blushed, feeling that it would be best to refuse again, but
possessed by a strong desire to have the ribbon. The idea of a loan
came back to her, and at last she accepted on condition that she should
return to him what he spent on her. They began to joke again: it was
agreed that if she did not sleep with him she should return him the
money. But there was another difficulty when he talked of going to
Maigrat's.

"No, not Maigrat's; mother won't let me."

"Why? is there any need to say where one goes? He has the best ribbons
in Montsou."

When Maigrat saw lanky Chaval and Catherine coming to his shop like two
lovers who are buying their engagement gifts, he became very red, and
exhibited his pieces of blue ribbon with the rage of a man who is being
made fun of. Then, when he had served the young people, he planted
himself at the door to watch them disappear in the twilight; and when
his wife came to ask him a question in a timid voice, he fell on her,
abusing her, and exclaiming that he would make them repent some day,
the filthy creatures, who had no gratitude, when they ought all to be
on the ground licking his feet.

Lanky Chaval accompanied Catherine along the road. He walked beside
her, swinging his arms; only he pushed her by the hip, conducting her
without seeming to do so. She suddenly perceived that he had made her
leave the pavement and that they were taking the narrow Réquillart
road. But she had no time to be angry; his arm was already round her
waist, and he was dazing her with a constant caress of words. How
stupid she was to be afraid! Did he want to hurt such a little darling,
who was as soft as silk, so tender that he could have devoured her?
And he breathed behind her ear, in her neck, so that a shudder passed
over the skin of her whole body. She felt stifled, and had nothing to
reply. It was true that he seemed to love her. On Saturday evenings,
after having blown out the candle, she had asked herself what would
happen if he were to take her in this way; then, on going to sleep,
she had dreamed that she would no longer refuse, quite overcome by
pleasure. Why, then, at the same idea to-day did she feel repugnance
and something like regret? While he was tickling her neck with his
moustache so softly that she closed her eyes, the shadow of another
man, of the lad she had seen that morning, passed over the darkness of
her closed eyelids.

Catherine suddenly looked around her. Chaval had conducted her into the
ruins of Réquillart and she recoiled, shuddering, from the darkness of
the fallen shed.

"Oh! no! oh, no!" she murmured, "please let me go!" The fear of the
male had taken hold of her, that fear which stiffens the muscles in
an impulse of defence, even when girls are willing, and feel the
conquering approach of man. Her virginity which had nothing to learn
took fright as at a threatening blow, a wound of which she feared the
unknown pain.

"No, no! I don't want to! I tell you that I am too young. It's true!
Another time, when I am quite grown up."

He growled in a low voice:

"Stupid! There's nothing to fear. What does that matter?"

But without speaking more he had seized her firmly and pushed her
beneath the shed. And she fell on her back on the old ropes; she ceased
to protest, yielding to the male before her time, with that hereditary
submission which from childhood had thrown down in the open air all the
girls of her race. Her frightened stammering grew faint, and only the
ardent breath of the man was heard.

Étienne, however, had listened without moving. Another who was taking
the leap! And now that he had seen the comedy he got up, overcome
by uneasiness, by a kind of jealous excitement in which there was a
touch of anger. He no longer restrained himself; he stepped over the
beams, for those two were too much occupied now to be disturbed. He was
surprised, therefore, when he had gone a hundred paces along the path,
to find that they were already standing up, and that they appeared,
like himself, to be returning to the settlement. The man again had
his arm round the girl's waist, and was squeezing her, with an air of
gratitude, still speaking in her neck; and it was she who seemed in a
hurry, anxious to return quickly, and annoyed at the delay.

Then Étienne was tormented by the desire to see their faces. It was
foolish, and he hastened his steps, so as not to yield to it; but
his feet slackened of their own accord, and at the first lamppost he
concealed himself in the shade. He was petrified by horror when he
recognized Catherine and lanky Chaval. He hesitated at first: was it
indeed she, that young girl in the coarse blue dress, with that bonnet?
Was that the urchin whom he had seen in breeches, with her head in
the canvas cap? That was why she could pass so near him without his
recognizing her. But he no longer doubted; he had seen her eyes again,
with their greenish limpidity of spring water, so clear and so deep.
What a wench! And he experienced a furious desire to avenge himself on
her with contempt, without any motive. Besides, he did not like her as
a girl: she was frightful.

Catherine and Chaval had passed him slowly. They did not know that they
were watched. He held her to kiss her behind the ear, and she began
to slacken her steps beneath his caresses, which made her laugh. Left
behind, Étienne was obliged to follow them, irritated because they
barred the road and because in spite of himself he had to witness these
things which exasperated him. It was true, then, what she had sworn to
him in the morning: she was not any one's mistress; and he, who had not
believed her, who had deprived himself of her in order not to act like
the other! and who had let her be taken beneath his nose, pushing his
stupidity so far as to be dirtily amused at seeing them! It made him
mad! he clenched his hands, he could have devoured that man in one of
those impulses to kill in which he saw everything red.

The walk lasted for half an hour. When Chaval and Catherine approached
the Voreux they slackened their pace still more; they stopped twice
beside the canal, three times along the pit-bank, very cheerful now and
occupied with little tender games. Étienne was obliged to stop also
when they stopped, for fear of being perceived. He endeavoured to feel
nothing but a brutal regret: that would teach him to treat girls with
consideration through being well brought up! Then, after passing the
Voreux, and at last free to go and dine at Rasseneur's, he continued
to follow them, accompanying them to the settlement, where he remained
standing in the shade for a quarter of an hour, waiting until Chaval
left Catherine to enter her home. And when he was quite sure that they
were no longer together, he set off walking afresh, going very far
along the Marchiennes road, stamping, and thinking of nothing, too
stifled and too sad to shut himself up in a room.

It was not until an hour later, towards nine o'clock, that Étienne
again passed the settlement, saying to himself that he must eat and
sleep, if he was to be up again at four o'clock in the morning. The
village was already asleep, and looked quite black in the night. Not a
gleam shone from the closed shutters, the house fronts slept, with the
heavy sleep of snoring barracks. Only a cat escaped through the empty
gardens. It was the end of the day, the collapse of workers falling
from the table to the bed, overcome with weariness and food.

At Rasseneur's, in the lighted room, an engine-man and two day-workers
were drinking. But before going in Étienne stopped to throw one last
glance into the darkness. He saw again the same black immensity as in
the morning when he had arrived in the wind. Before him the Voreux was
crouching, with its air of an evil beast, its dimness pricked with a
few lantern lights. The three braziers of the bank were burning in the
air, like bloody moons, now and then showing the vast silhouettes of
Father Bonnemort and his yellow horse. And beyond, in the flat plain,
shade had submerged everything, Montsou, Marchiennes, the forest of
Vandame, the immense sea of beetroot and of wheat, in which there only
shone, like distant lighthouses, the blue fires of the blast furnaces,
and the red fires of the coke ovens. Gradually the night came on, the
rain was now falling slowly, continuously, burying this void in its
monotonous streaming. Only one voice was still heard, the thick, slow
respiration of the pumping engine, breathing both by day and by night.



PART THREE



CHAPTER I


On the next day, and the days that followed, Étienne continued his
work at the pit. He grew accustomed to it; his existence became
regulated by this labour and to these new habits which had seemed
so hard to him at first. Only one episode interrupted the monotony
of the first fortnight: a slight fever which kept him in bed for
forty-eight hours with aching limbs and throbbing head, dreaming in a
state of semi-delirium that he was pushing his tram in a passage that
was so narrow that his body would not pass through. It was simply the
exhaustion of his apprenticeship, an excess of fatigue from which he
quickly recovered.

And days followed days, until weeks and months had slipped by. Now,
like his mates, he got up at three o'clock, drank his coffee, and
carried off the double slice of bread and butter which Madame Rasseneur
had prepared for him the evening before. Regularly as he went every
morning to the pit, he met old Bonnemort who was going home to sleep,
and on leaving in the afternoon he crossed Bouteloup who was going
to his task. He had his cap, his breeches and canvas jacket, and he
shivered and warmed his back in the shed before the large fire. Then
came the waiting with naked feet in the receiving-room, swept by
furious currents of air. But the engine, with its great steel limbs
starred with copper shining up above in the shade, no longer attracted
his attention, nor the cables which flew by with the black and
silent motion of a nocturnal bird, nor the cages rising and plunging
unceasingly in the midst of the noise of signals, of shouted orders, of
trams shaking the metal floor. His lamp burnt badly, that confounded
lamp-man could not have cleaned it; and he only woke up when Mouquet
bundled them all off, roguishly smacking the girls' flanks. The cage
was unfastened, and fell like a stone to the bottom of a hole without
causing him even to lift his head to see the daylight vanish. He never
thought of a possible fall; he felt himself at home as he sank into the
darkness beneath the falling rain. Below at the pit-eye, when Pierron
had unloaded them with his air of hypocritical mildness, there was
always the same tramping as of a flock, the yard-men each going away
to his cutting with trailing steps. He now knew the mine galleries
better than the streets of Montsou; he knew where he had to turn, where
he had to stoop, and where he had to avoid a puddle. He had grown so
accustomed to these two kilometres beneath the earth, that he could
have traversed them without a lamp, with his hands in his pockets. And
every time the same meetings took place: a captain lighting up the
faces of the passing workmen, Father Mouque leading a horse, Bébert
conducting the snorting Bataille, Jeanlin running behind the tram to
close the ventilation doors, and big Mouquette and lean Lydie pushing
their trams.

After a time, also, Étienne suffered much less from the damp and
closeness of the cutting. The chimney or ascending passage seemed to
him more convenient for climbing up, as if he had melted and could
pass through cracks where before he would not have risked a hand.
He breathed the coal-dust without difficulty, saw clearly in the
obscurity, and sweated tranquilly, having grown accustomed to the
sensation of wet garments on his body from morning to night. Besides,
he no longer spent his energy recklessly; he had gained skill so
rapidly that he astonished the whole stall. In three weeks he was
named among the best putters in the pit; no one pushed a tram more
rapidly to the upbrow, nor loaded it afterwards so correctly. His small
figure allowed him to slip about everywhere, and though his arms were
as delicate and white as a woman's, they seemed to be made of iron
beneath the smooth skin, so vigorously did they perform their task.
He never complained, out of pride no doubt, even when he was panting
with fatigue. The only thing they had against him was that he could not
take a joke, and grew angry as soon as any one trod on his toes. In all
other respects he was accepted and looked upon as a real miner, reduced
beneath this pressure of habit, little by little, to a machine.

Maheu regarded Étienne with special friendship, for he respected work
that was well done. Then, like the others, he felt that this lad had
more education than himself; he saw him read, write, and draw little
plans; he heard him talking of things of which he himself did not
know even the existence. This caused him no astonishment, for miners
are rough fellows who have thicker heads than engine-men; but he was
surprised at the courage of this little chap, and at the cheerful way
he had bitten into the coal to avoid dying of hunger. He had never met
a workman who grew accustomed to it so quickly. So when hewing was
urgent, and he did not wish to disturb a pikeman, he gave the timbering
over to the young man, being sure of the neatness and solidity of his
work. The bosses were always bothering him about the damned planking
question; he feared every hour the appearance of the engineer Négrel,
followed by Dansaert, shouting, discussing, ordering everything to
be done over again, and he remarked that his putter's timbering gave
greater satisfaction to these gentlemen, in spite of their air of never
being pleased with anything, and their repeated assertions that the
Company would one day or another take radical measures. Things dragged
on; a deep discontent was fomenting in the pit, and Maheu himself, in
spite of his calmness, was beginning to clench his fists.

There was at first some rivalry between Zacharie and Étienne. One
evening they were even coming to blows. But the former, a good lad
though careless of everything but his own pleasure, was quickly
appeased by the friendly offer of a glass, and soon yielded to the
superiority of the new-comer. Levaque was also on good terms with
him, talking politics with the putter, who, as he said, had his own
ideas. The only one of the men in whom he felt a deep hostility was
lanky Chaval: not that they were cool towards each other, for, on
the contrary, they had become companions; only when they joked their
eyes seemed to devour each other. Catherine continued to move among
them as a tired, resigned girl, bending her back, pushing her tram,
always good-natured with her companion in the putting, who aided her
in his turn, and submissive to the wishes of her lover, whose caresses
she now received openly. It was an accepted situation, a recognized
domestic arrangement to which the family itself closed its eyes to
such a degree that Chaval every evening led away the putter behind the
pit-bank, then brought her back to her parents' door, where he finally
embraced her before the whole settlement. Étienne, who believed that he
had reconciled himself to the situation, often teased her about these
walks, making crude remarks by way of joke, as lads and girls will at
the bottom of the cuttings; and she replied in the same tone, telling
in a swaggering way what her lover had done to her, yet disturbed and
growing pale when the young man's eyes chanced to meet hers. Then both
would turn away their heads, not speaking again, perhaps, for an hour,
looking as if they hated each other because of something buried within
them and which they could never explain to each other.

The spring had come. On emerging from the pit one day Étienne had
received in his face a warm April breeze, a good odour of young earth,
of tender greenness, of large open air; and now, every time he came
up the spring smelt sweeter, warmed him more, after his ten hours of
labour in the eternal winter at the bottom, in the midst of that damp
darkness which no summer had ever dissipated. The days grew longer and
longer; at last, in May, he went down at sunrise when a vermilion sky
lit up the Voreux with a mist of dawn in which the white vapour of the
pumping-engine became rose-coloured. There was no more shivering, a
warm breath blew across the plain, while the larks sang far above. Then
at three o'clock he was dazzled by the now burning sun which set fire
to the horizon, and reddened the bricks beneath the filth of the coal.
In June the wheat was already high, of a blue green, which contrasted
with the black green of the beetroots. It was an endless vista
undulating beneath the slightest breeze; and he saw it spread and grow
from day to day, and was sometimes surprised, as if he had found it in
the evening more swollen with verdure than it had been in the morning.
The poplars along the canal were putting on their plumes of leaves.
Grass was invading the pit-bank, flowers were covering the meadows, a
whole life was germinating and pushing up from this earth beneath which
he was groaning in misery and fatigue.

When Étienne now went for a walk in the evening he no longer startled
lovers behind the pit-bank. He could follow their track in the wheat
and divine their wanton birds' nests by eddies among the yellowing
blades and the great red poppies. Zacharie and Philoméne came back to
it out of old domestic habit; Mother Brulé, always on Lydie's heels,
was constantly hunting her out with Jeanlin, buried so deeply together
that one had to tread on them before they made up their minds to get
up; and as to Mouquette, she lay about everywhere--one could not cross
a field without seeing her head plunge down while only her feet emerged
as she lay at full length. But all these were quite free; the young man
found nothing guilty there except on the evenings when he met Catherine
and Chaval. Twice he saw them on his approach tumble down in the midst
of a field, where the motionless stalks afterwards remained dead.
Another time, as he was going along a narrow path, Catherine's clear
eyes appeared before him, level with the wheat, and immediately sank.
Then the immense plain seemed to him too small, and he preferred to
pass the evening at Rasseneur's, in the Avantage.

"Give me a glass, Madame Rasseneur. No, I'm not going out to-night; my
legs are too stiff."

And he turned towards a comrade, who always sat at the bottom table
with his head against the wall.

"Souvarine, won't you have one?"

"No, thanks; nothing."

Étienne had become acquainted with Souvarine through living there side
by side. He was an engine-man at the Voreux, and occupied the furnished
room upstairs next to his own. He must have been about thirty years
old, fair and slender, with a delicate face framed by thick hair and a
slight beard. His white pointed teeth, his thin mouth and nose, with
his rosy complexion, gave him a girlish appearance, an air of obstinate
gentleness, across which the grey reflection of his steely eyes threw
savage gleams. In his poor workman's room there was nothing but a box
of papers and books. He was a Russian, and never spoke of himself, so
that many stories were afloat concerning him. The colliers, who are
very suspicious with strangers, guessing from his small middle-class
hands that he belonged to another caste, had at first imagined a
romance, some assassination, and that he was escaping punishment. But
then he had behaved in such a fraternal way with them, without any
pride, distributing to the youngsters of the settlement all the sous
in his pockets, that they now accepted him, reassured by the term
"political refugee" which circulated about him--a vague term, in which
they saw an excuse even for crime, and, as it were, a companionship in
suffering.

During the first weeks, Étienne had found him timid and reserved, so
that he only discovered his history later on. Souvarine was the latest
born of a noble family in the Government of Tula. At St. Petersburg,
where he studied medicine, the socialistic enthusiasm which then
carried away all the youth in Russia had decided him to learn a manual
trade, that of a mechanic, so that he could mix with the people, in
order to know them and help them as a brother. And it was by this
trade that he was now living after having fled, in consequence of an
unsuccessful attempt against the tsar's life: for a month he had lived
in a fruiterer's cellar, hollowing out a mine underneath the road,
and charging bombs, with the constant risk of being blown up with
the house. Renounced by his family, without money, expelled from the
French workshops as a foreigner who was regarded as a spy, he was dying
of starvation when the Montsou Company had at last taken him on at a
moment of pressure. For a year he had laboured there as a good, sober,
silent workman, doing day-work one week and night-work the next week,
so regularly that the masters referred to him as an example to the
others.

"Are you never thirsty?" said Étienne to him, laughing.

And he replied with his gentle voice, almost without an accent:

"I am thirsty when I eat."

His companion also joked him about the girls, declaring that he had
seen him with a putter in the wheat on the Bas-de-Soie side. Then he
shrugged his shoulders with tranquil indifference. What should he do
with a putter? Woman was for him a boy, a comrade, when she had the
fraternal feeling and the courage of a man. What was the good of having
a possible act of cowardice on one's conscience? He desired no bond,
either woman or friend; he would be master of his own life and those of
others.

Every evening towards nine o'clock, when the inn was emptying, Étienne
remained thus talking with Souvarine. He drank his beer in small
sips, while the engine-man smoked constant cigarettes, of which the
tobacco had at last stained his slender fingers. His vague mystic's
eyes followed the smoke in the midst of a dream; his left hand sought
occupation by nervously twitching; and he usually ended by installing a
tame rabbit on his knees, a large doe with young, who lived at liberty
in the house. This rabbit, which he had named Poland, had grown to
worship him; she would come and smell his trousers, fawn on him and
scratch him with her paws until he took her up like a child. Then,
lying in a heap against him, her ears laid back, she would close her
eyes; and without growing tired, with an unconscious caressing gesture,
he would pass his hand over her grey silky fur, calmed by that warm
living softness.

"You know I have had a letter from Pluchart," said Étienne one evening.

Only Rasseneur was there. The last client had departed for the
settlement, which was now going to bed.

"Ah!" exclaimed the innkeeper, standing up before his two lodgers. "How
are things going with Pluchart?"

During the last two months, Étienne had kept up a constant
correspondence with the Lille mechanician, whom he had told of his
Montsou engagement, and who was now indoctrinating him, having been
struck by the propaganda which he might carry on among the miners.

"The association is getting on very well. It seems that they are coming
in from all sides."

"What have you got to say, eh, about their society?" asked Rasseneur of
Souvarine.

The latter, who was softly scratching Poland's head, blew out a puff of
smoke and muttered, with his tranquil air:

"More foolery!"

But Étienne grew enthusiastic. A predisposition for revolt was throwing
him, in the first illusions of his ignorance, into the struggle
of labour against capital. It was the International Working Men's
Association that they were concerned with, that famous International
which had just been founded in London. Was not that a superb effort, a
campaign in which justice would at last triumph? No more frontiers; the
workers of the whole world rising and uniting to assure to the labourer
the bread that he has earned. And what a simple and great organization!
Below, the section which represents the commune; then the federation
which groups the sections of the same province; then the nation; and
then, at last, humanity incarnated in a general council in which each
nation was represented by a corresponding secretary. In six months
it would conquer the world, and would be able to dictate laws to the
masters should they prove obstinate.

"Foolery!" repeated Souvarine. "Your Karl Marx is still only thinking
about letting natural forces act. No politics, no conspiracies, is it
not so? Everything in the light of day, and simply to raise wages.
Don't bother me with your evolution! Set fire to the four corners of
the town, mow down the people, level everything, and when there is
nothing more of this rotten world left standing, perhaps a better one
will grow up in its place."

Étienne began to laugh. He did not always take in his comrade's
sayings; this theory of destruction seemed to him an affectation.
Rasseneur, who was still more practical, like a man of solid common
sense did not condescend to get angry. He only wanted to have things
clear.

"Then, what? Are you going to try and create a section at Montsou?"

This was what was desired by Pluchart, who was secretary to the
Federation of the Nord. He insisted especially on the services which
the association would render to the miners should they go out on
strike. Étienne believed that a strike was imminent: this timbering
business would turn out badly; any further demands on the part of the
Company would cause rebellion in all the pits.

"It's the subscriptions that are the nuisance," Rasseneur declared, in
a judicial tone. "Half a franc a year for the general fund, two francs
for the section; it looks like nothing, but I bet that many will refuse
to give it."

"All the more," added Étienne, "because we must first have here a
Provident Fund, which we can use if need be as an emergency fund. No
matter, it is time to think about these things. I am ready if the
others are."

There was silence. The petroleum lamp smoked on the counter. Through
the large open door they could distinctly hear the shovel of a stoker
at the Voreux stoking the engine.

"Everything is so dear!" began Madame Rasseneur, who had entered
and was listening with a gloomy air as if she had grown up in her
everlasting black dress. "When I tell you that I've paid twenty-two
sous for eggs! It will have to burst up."

All three men this time were of the same opinion. They spoke one after
the other in a despairing voice, giving expression to their complaints.
The workers could not hold out; the Revolution had only aggravated
their wretchedness; only the bourgeois had grown fat since '89, so
greedily that they had not even left the bottom of the plates to lick.
Who could say that the workers had had their reasonable share in the
extraordinary increase of wealth and comfort during the last hundred
years? They had made fun of them by declaring them free. Yes, free to
starve, a freedom of which they fully availed themselves. It put no
bread into your cupboard to go and vote for fine fellows who went away
and enjoyed themselves, thinking no more of the wretched voters than
of their old boots. No! one way or another it would have to come to an
end, either quietly by laws, by an understanding in good fellowship,
or like savages by burning everything and devouring one another. Even
if they never saw it, their children would certainly see it, for the
century could not come to an end without another revolution, that of
the workers this time, a general hustling which would cleanse society
from top to bottom, and rebuild it with more cleanliness and justice.

"It will have to burst up," Madame Rasseneur repeated energetically.

"Yes, yes," they all three cried. "It will have to burst up." Souvarine
was now tickling Poland's ears, and her nose was curling with pleasure.
He said in a low voice, with abstracted gaze, as if to himself:

"Raise wages--how can you? They're fixed by an iron law to the smallest
possible sum, just the sum necessary to allow the workers to eat dry
bread and get children. If they fall too low, the workers die, and the
demand for new men makes them rise. If they rise too high, more men
come, and they fall. It is the balance of empty bellies, a sentence to
a perpetual prison of hunger."

When he thus forgot himself, entering into the questions that stir an
educated socialist, Étienne and Rasseneur became restless, disturbed by
his despairing statements which they were unable to answer.

"Do you understand?" he said again, gazing at them with his habitual
calmness; "we must destroy everything, or hunger will reappear. Yes,
anarchy and nothing more; the earth washed in blood and purified by
fire! Then we shall see!"

"Monsieur is quite right," said Madame Rasseneur, who, in her
revolutionary violence, was always very polite.

Étienne, in despair at his ignorance, would argue no longer. He rose,
remarking:

"Let's go to bed. All this won't save one from getting up at three
o'clock."

Souvarine, having blown away the cigarette-end which was sticking to
his lips, was already gently lifting the big rabbit beneath the belly
to place it on the ground. Rasseneur was shutting up the house. They
separated in silence with buzzing ears, as if their heads had swollen
with the grave questions they had been discussing.

And every evening there were similar conversations in the bare room
around the single glass which Étienne took an hour to empty. A crowd
of obscure ideas, asleep within him, were stirring and expanding.
Especially consumed by the need of knowledge, he had long hesitated
to borrow books from his neighbour, who unfortunately had hardly
any but German and Russian works. At last he had borrowed a French
book on Co-operative Societies--mere foolery, said Souvarine; and
he also regularly read a newspaper which the latter received, the
Combat, an Anarchist journal published at Geneva. In other respects,
notwithstanding their daily relations, he found him as reserved as
ever, with his air of camping in life, without interests or feelings or
possessions of any kind.

Towards the first days of July, Étienne's situation began to improve.
In the midst of this monotonous life, always beginning over again,
an accident had occurred. The stalls in the Guillaume seam had come
across a shifting of the strata, a general disturbance in the layers,
which certainly announced that they were approaching a fault; and, in
fact, they soon came across this fault which the engineers, in spite
of considerable knowledge of the soil, were still ignorant of. This
upset the pit; nothing was talked of but the lost seam, which was to
be found, no doubt, lower down on the other side of the fault. The old
miners were already expanding their nostrils, like good dogs, in a
chase for coal. But, meanwhile, the hewers could not stand with folded
arms, and placards announced that the Company would put up new workings
to auction.

Maheu, on coming out one day, accompanied Étienne and offered to take
him on as a pikeman in his working, in place of Levaque who had gone
to another yard. The matter had already been arranged with the head
captain and the engineer, who were very pleased with the young man. So
Étienne merely had to accept this rapid promotion, glad of the growing
esteem in which Maheu held him.

In the evening they returned together to the pit to take note of the
placards. The cuttings put up to auction were in the Filonniére seam in
the north gallery of the Voreux. They did not seem very advantageous,
and the miner shook his head when the young man read out the
conditions. On the following day when they had gone down, he took him
to see the seam, and showed him how far away it was from the pit-eye,
the crumbly nature of the earth, the thinness and hardness of the coal.
But if they were to eat they would have to work. So on the following
Sunday they went to the auction, which took place in the shed and was
presided over by the engineer of the pit, assisted by the head captain,
in the absence of the divisional engineer. From five to six hundred
miners were there in front of the little platform, which was placed in
the corner, and the bidding went on so rapidly that one only heard a
deep tumult of voices, of shouted figures drowned by other figures.

For a moment Maheu feared that he would not be able to obtain one of
the forty workings offered by the Company. All the rivals went lower,
disquieted by the rumours of a crisis and the panic of a lock-out.
Négrel, the engineer, did not hurry in the face of this panic, and
allowed the offers to fall to the lowest possible figures, while
Dansaert, anxious to push matters still further, lied with regard to
the quality of the workings. In order to get his fifty metres, Maheu
struggled with a comrade who was also obstinate; in turn they each took
off a centime from the tram; and if he conquered in the end it was only
by lowering the wage to such an extent, that the captain Richomme, who
was standing behind him, muttered between his teeth, and nudged him
with his elbow, growling angrily that he could never do it at that
price.

When they came out Étienne was swearing. And he broke out before
Chaval, who was returning from the wheatfields in company with
Catherine, amusing himself while his father-in-law was absorbed in
serious business.

"By God!" he exclaimed, "it's simply slaughter! Today it is the worker
who is forced to devour the worker!"

Chaval was furious. He would never have lowered it, he wouldn't.
And Zacharie, who had come out of curiosity, declared that it was
disgusting. But Étienne with a violent gesture silenced them.

"It will end some day, we shall be the masters!"

Maheu, who had been mute since the auction, appeared to wake up. He
repeated:

"Masters! Ah! bad luck! it can't be too soon!"



CHAPTER II


It was Montsou feast-day, the last Sunday in July. Since Saturday
evening the good housekeepers of the settlement had deluged their
parlours with water, throwing bucketfuls over the flags and against the
walls; and the floor was not yet dry, in spite of the white sand which
had been strewn over it, an expensive luxury for the purses of the
poor. But the day promised to be very warm; it was one of those heavy
skies threatening storm, which in summer stifle this flat bare country
of the Nord.

Sunday upset the hours for rising, even among the Maheus. While the
father, after five o'clock, grew weary of his bed and dressed himself,
the children lay in bed until nine. On this day Maheu went to smoke
a pipe in the garden, and then came back to eat his bread and butter
alone, while waiting. He thus passed the morning in a random manner; he
mended the tub, which leaked; stuck up beneath the clock a portrait of
the prince imperial which had been given to the little ones. However,
the others came down one by one. Father Bonnemort had taken a chair
outside, to sit in the sun, while the mother and Alzire had at once set
about cooking. Catherine appeared, pushing before her Lénore and Henri,
whom she had just dressed. Eleven o'clock struck, and the odour of the
rabbit, which was boiling with potatoes, was already filling the house
when Zacharie and Jeanlin came down last, still yawning and with their
swollen eyes.

The settlement was now in a flutter, excited by the feast-day, and
in expectation of dinner, which was being hastened for the departure
in bands to Montsou. Troops of children were rushing about. Men in
their shirt-sleeves were trailing their old shoes with the lazy gait
of days of rest. Windows and doors, opened wide in the fine weather,
gave glimpses of rows of parlours which were filled with movement and
shouts and the chatter of families. And from one end to the other of
the frontages, there was a smell of rabbit, a rich kitchen smell which
on this day struggled with the inveterate odour of fried onion.

The Maheus dined at midday. They made little noise in the midst of
the chatter from door to door, in the coming and going of women in
a constant uproar of calls and replies, of objects borrowed, of
youngsters hunted away or brought back with a slap. Besides, they
had not been on good terms during the last three weeks with their
neighbours, the Levaques, on the subject of the marriage of Zacharie
and Philoméne. The men passed the time of day, but the women pretended
not to know each other. This quarrel had strengthened the relations
with Pierronne, only Pierronne had left Pierron and Lydie with her
mother, and set out early in the morning to spend the day with a cousin
at Marchiennes; and they joked, for they knew this cousin; she had a
moustache, and was head captain at the Voreux. Maheude declared that it
was not proper to leave one's family on a feast-day Sunday.

Beside the rabbit with potatoes, a rabbit which had been fattening
in the shed for a month, the Maheus had meat soup and beef. The
fortnight's wages had just fallen due the day before. They could not
recollect such a spread. Even at the last St. Barbara's Day, the fete
of the miners when they do nothing for three days, the rabbit had
not been so fat nor so tender. So the ten pairs of jaws, from little
Estelle, whose teeth were beginning to appear, to old Bonnemort,
who was losing his, worked so heartily that the bones themselves
disappeared. The meat was good, but they could not digest it well; they
saw it too seldom. Everything disappeared; there only remained a piece
of boiled beef for the evening. They could add bread and butter if they
were hungry.

Jeanlin went out first. Bébert was waiting for him behind the school,
and they prowled about for a long time before they were able to entice
away Lydie, whom Brulé, who had decided not to go out, was trying
to keep with her. When she perceived that the child had fled, she
shouted and brandished her lean arms, while Pierron, annoyed at the
disturbance, strolled quietly away with the air of a husband who can
amuse himself with a good conscience, knowing that his wife also has
her little amusements.

Old Bonnemort set out at last, and Maheu decided to have a little fresh
air after asking Maheude if she would come and join him down below.
No, she couldn't at all, it was nothing but drudgery with the little
ones; but perhaps she would, all the same; she would think about it:
they could easily find each other. When he got outside he hesitated,
then he went into the neighbours' to see if Levaque was ready. There he
found Zacharie, who was waiting for Philoméne, and the Levaque woman
started again on that everlasting subject of marriage, saying that
she was being made fun of and that she would have an explanation with
Maheude once and for all. Was life worth living when one had to keep
one's daughter's fatherless children while she went off with her lover?
Philoméne quietly finished putting on her bonnet, and Zacharie took
her off, saying that he was quite willing if his mother was willing.
As Levaque had already gone, Maheu referred his angry neighbour to his
wife and hastened to depart. Bouteloup, who was finishing a fragment of
cheese with both elbows on the table, obstinately refused the friendly
offer of a glass. He would stay in the house like a good husband.

Gradually the settlement was emptied; all the men went off one behind
the other, while the girls, watching at the doors, set out in the
opposite direction on the arms of their lovers. As her father turned
the corner of the church, Catherine perceived Chaval, and, hastening to
join him, they took together the Montsou road. And the mother remained
alone, in the midst of her scattered children, without strength to
leave her chair, where she was pouring out a second glass of boiling
coffee, which she drank in little sips. In the settlement there were
only the women left, inviting each other to finish the dregs of the
coffee-pots, around tables that were still warm and greasy with the
dinner.

Maheu had guessed that Levaque was at the Avantage, and he slowly
went down to Rasseneur's. In fact, behind the bar, in the little
garden shut in by a hedge, Levaque was having a game of skittles with
some mates. Standing by, and not playing, Father Bonnemort and old
Mouque were following the ball, so absorbed that they even forgot to
nudge each other with their elbows. A burning sun struck down on them
perpendicularly; there was only one streak of shade by the side of the
inn; and Étienne was there drinking his glass before a table, annoyed
because Souvarine had just left him to go up to his room. Nearly every
Sunday the engine-man shut himself up to write or to read.

"Will you have a game?" asked Levaque of Maheu.

But he refused: it was too hot, he was already dying of thirst.

"Rasseneur," called Étienne, "bring a glass, will you?"

And turning towards Maheu:

"I'll stand it, you know."

They now all treated each other familiarly. Rasseneur did not hurry
himself, he had to be called three times; and Madame Rasseneur at last
brought some lukewarm beer. The young man had lowered his voice to
complain about the house: they were worthy people, certainly, people
with good ideas, but the beer was worthless and the soup abominable!
He would have changed his lodgings ten times over, only the thought of
the walk from Montsou held him back. One day or another he would go and
live with some family at the settlement.

"Sure enough!" said Maheu in his slow voice, "sure enough, you would be
better in a family."

But shouts now broke out. Levaque had overthrown all the skittles at
one stroke. Mouque and Bonnemort, with their faces towards the ground,
in the midst of the tumult preserved a silence of profound approbation.
And the joy at this stroke found vent in jokes, especially when the
players perceived Mouquette's radiant face behind the hedge. She had
been prowling about there for an hour, and at last ventured to come
near on hearing the laughter.

"What! are you alone?" shouted Levaque. "Where are your sweethearts?"

"My sweethearts! I've stabled them," she replied, with a fine impudent
gaiety. "I'm looking for one."

They all offered themselves, throwing coarse chaff at her. She refused
with a gesture and laughed louder, playing the fine lady. Besides, her
father was watching the game without even taking his eyes from the
fallen skittles.

"Ah!" Levaque went on, throwing a look towards Étienne: "one can tell
where you're casting sheep's eyes, my girl! You'll have to take him by
force."

Then Étienne brightened up. It was in fact around him that the putter
was revolving. And he refused, amused indeed, but without having the
least desire for her. She remained planted behind the hedge for some
minutes longer, looking at him with large fixed eyes; then she slowly
went away, and her face suddenly became serious as if she were overcome
by the powerful sun.

In a low voice Étienne was again giving long explanations to Maheu
regarding the necessity for the Montsou miners to establish a Provident
Fund. "Since the Company professes to leave us free," he repeated,
"what is there to fear? We only have their pensions and they distribute
them according to their own idea, since they don't hold back any of our
pay. Well, it will be prudent to form, outside their good pleasure, an
association of mutual help on which we can count at least in cases of
immediate need."

And he gave details, and discussed the organization, promising to
undertake the labour of it.

"I am willing enough," said Maheu, at last convinced. "But there are
the others; get them to make up their minds."

Levaque had won, and they left the skittles to empty their glasses. But
Maheu refused to drink a second glass; he would see later on, the day
was not yet done. He was thinking about Pierron. Where could he be?
No doubt at the Lenfant Estaminet. And, having persuaded Étienne and
Levaque, the three set out for Montsou, at the same moment that a new
band took possession of the skittles at the Avantage.

On the road they had to pause at the Casimir Bar, and then at the
Estaminet du Progrés. Comrades called them through the open doors, and
there was no way of refusing. Each time it was a glass, two if they
were polite enough to return the invitation. They remained there ten
minutes, exchanging a few words, and then began again, a little farther
on, knowing the beer, with which they could fill themselves without any
other discomfort than having to piss it out again in the same measure,
as clear as rock water. At the Estaminet Lenfant they came right upon
Pierron, who was finishing his second glass, and who, in order not to
refuse to touch glasses, swallowed a third. They naturally drank theirs
also. Now there were four of them, and they set out to see if Zacharie
was not at the Estaminet Tison. It was empty, and they called for a
glass, in order to wait for him a moment. Then they thought of the
Estaminet Saint-Éloi and accepted there a round from Captain Richomme.
Then they rambled from bar to bar, without any pretext, simply saying
that they were having a stroll.

"We must go to the Volcan!" suddenly said Levaque, who was getting
excited.

The others began to laugh, and hesitated. Then they accompanied their
comrade in the midst of the growing crowd. In the long narrow room of
the Volcan, on a platform raised at the end, five singers, the scum
of the Lille prostitutes, were walking about, low-necked and with
monstrous gestures, and the customers gave ten sous when they desired
to have one behind the stage. There was especially a number of putters
and landers, even trammers of fourteen, all the youth of the pit,
drinking more gin than beer. A few old miners also ventured there, and
the worst husbands of the settlements, those whose households were
falling into ruin.

As soon as the band was seated round a little table, Étienne took
possession of Levaque to explain to him his idea of the Provident
Fund. Like all new converts who have found a mission, he had become an
obstinate propagandist.

"Every member," he repeated, "could easily pay in twenty sous a month.
As these twenty sous accumulated they would form a nice little sum
in four or five years, and when one has money one is ready, eh, for
anything that turns up? Eh, what do you say to it?"

"I've nothing to say against it," replied Levaque, with an abstracted
air. "We will talk about it."

He was excited by an enormous blonde, and determined to remain behind
when Maheu and Pierron, after drinking their glasses, set out without
waiting for a second song.

Outside, Étienne who had gone with them found Mouquette, who seemed to
be following them. She was always there, looking at him with her large
fixed eyes, laughing her good-natured laugh, as if to say: "Are you
willing?" The young man joked and shrugged his shoulders. Then, with a
gesture of anger, she was lost in the crowd.

"Where, then, is Chaval?" asked Pierron.

"True!" said Maheu. "He must surely be at Piquette's. Let us go to
Piquette's."

But as they all three arrived at the Estaminet Piquette, sounds of
a quarrel arrested them at the door; Zacharie with his fist was
threatening a thick-set phlegmatic Walloon nail-maker, while Chaval,
with his hands in his pockets, was looking on.

"Hullo! there's Chaval," said Maheu quietly; "he is with Catherine."

For five long hours the putter and her lover had been walking about
the fair. All along the Montsou road, that wide road with low bedaubed
houses winding downhill, a crowd of people wandered up and down in the
sun, like a trail of ants, lost in the flat, bare plain. The eternal
black mud had dried, a black dust was rising and floating about like a
storm-cloud.

On both sides the public-houses were crowded; there were rows of tables
to the street, where stood a double rank of hucksters at stalls in
the open air, selling neck-handkerchiefs and looking-glasses for the
girls, knives and caps for the lads; to say nothing of sweetmeats,
sugar-plums, and biscuits. In front of the church archery was going on.
Opposite the Yards they were playing at bowls. At the corner of the
Joiselle road, beside the Administration buildings, in a spot enclosed
by fences, crowds were watching a cock-fight, two large red cocks,
armed with steel spurs, their breasts torn and bleeding. Farther on, at
Maigrat's, aprons and trousers were being won at billiards. And there
were long silences; the crowd drank and stuffed itself without a sound;
a mute indigestion of beer and fried potatoes was expanding in the
great heat, still further increased by the frying-pans bubbling in the
open air.

Chaval bought a looking-glass for nineteen sous and a handkerchief
for three francs, to give to Catherine. At every turn they met Mouque
and Bonnemort, who had come to the fair and, in meditative mood, were
plodding heavily through it side by side. Another meeting made them
angry; they caught sight of Jeanlin inciting Bébert and Lydie to steal
bottles of gin from an extemporized bar installed at the edge of an
open piece of ground. Catherine succeeded in boxing her brother's ears;
the little girl had already run away with a bottle. These imps of Satan
would certainly end in a prison. Then, as they arrived before another
bar, the Tête-Coupée, it occurred to Chaval to take his sweetheart
in to a competition of chaffinches which had been announced on the
door for the past week. Fifteen nail-makers from the Marchiennes nail
works had responded to the appeal, each with a dozen cages; and the
gloomy little cages in which the blinded finches sat motionless were
already hung upon a paling in the inn yard. It was a question as to
which, in the course of an hour, should repeat the phrase of its song
the greatest number of times. Each nail-maker with a slate stood near
his cages to mark, watching his neighbours and watched by them. And
the chaffinches had begun, the _chichouïeux_ with the deeper
note, the _batisecouics_ with their shriller note, all at first
timid, and only risking a rare phrase, then, excited by each other's
songs, increasing the pace; then at last carried away by such a rage
of rivalry that they would even fall dead. The nail-makers violently
whipped them on with their voices, shouting out to them in Walloon to
sing more, still more, yet a little more, while the spectators, about
a hundred people, stood by in mute fascination in the midst of this
infernal music of a hundred and eighty chaffinches all repeating the
same cadence out of time. It was a _batisecouic_ which gained the
first prize, a metal coffee-pot.

Catherine and Chaval were there when Zacharie and Philoméne entered.
They shook hands, and all stayed together. But suddenly Zacharie
became angry, for he discovered that a nail-maker, who had come in
with his mates out of curiosity, was pinching his sister's thigh. She
blushed and tried to make him be silent, trembling at the idea that all
these nail-makers would throw themselves on Chaval and kill him if he
objected to her being pinched. She had felt the pinch, but said nothing
out of prudence. Her lover, however, merely made a grimace, and as they
all four now went out the affair seemed to be finished. But hardly
had they entered Piquette's to drink a glass, when the nail-maker
reappeared, making fun of them and coming close up to them with an air
of provocation. Zacharie, insulted in his good family feelings, threw
himself on the insolent intruder.

"That's my sister, you swine! Just wait a bit, and I'm damned if I
don't make you respect her."

The two men were separated, while Chaval, who was quite calm, only
repeated:

"Let be! it's my concern. I tell you I don't care a damn for him."

Maheu now arrived with his party, and quieted Catherine and Philoméne
who were in tears. The nail-maker had disappeared, and there was
laughter in the crowd. To bring the episode to an end, Chaval, who
was at home at the Estaminet Piquette, called for drinks. Étienne had
touched glasses with Catherine, and all drank together--the father,
the daughter and her lover, the son and his mistress--saying politely:
"To your good health!" Pierron afterwards persisted in paying for more
drinks. And they were all in good humour, when Zacharie grew wild again
at the sight of his comrade Mouquet, and called him, as he said, to go
and finish his affair with the nail-maker.

"I shall have to go and do for him! Here, Chaval, keep Philoméne with
Catherine. I'm coming back."

Maheu offered drinks in his turn. After all, if the lad wished to
avenge his sister it was not a bad example. But as soon as she had seen
Mouquet, Philoméne felt at rest, and nodded her head. Sure enough the
two chaps would be off to the Volcan!

On the evenings of feast-days the fair was terminated in the ball-room
of the Bon-Joyeux. It was a widow, Madame Désir, who kept this
ball-room, a fat matron of fifty, as round as a tub, but so fresh that
she still had six lovers, one for every day of the week, she said, and
the six together for Sunday. She called all the miners her children;
and grew tender at the thought of the flood of beer which she had
poured out for them during the last thirty years; and she boasted also
that a putter never became pregnant without having first stretched her
legs at her establishment. There were two rooms in the Bon-Joyeux: the
bar which contained the counter and tables; then, communicating with
it on the same floor by a large arch, was the ball-room, a large hall
only planked in the middle, being paved with bricks round the sides.
It was decorated with two garlands of paper flowers which crossed one
another, and were united in the middle by a crown of the same flowers;
while along the walls were rows of gilt shields bearing the names of
saints--St. Éloi, patron of the iron-workers; St. Crispin, patron of
the shoemakers; St. Barbara, patron of the miners; the whole calendar
of corporations. The ceiling was so low that the three musicians on
their platform, which was about the size of a pulpit, knocked their
heads against it. When it became dark four petroleum lamps were
fastened to the four corners of the room.

On this Sunday there was dancing from five o'clock with the full
daylight through the windows, but it was not until towards seven
that the rooms began to fill. Outside, a gale was rising, blowing
great black showers of dust which blinded people and sleeted into
the frying-pans. Maheu, Étienne, and Pierron, having come in to sit
down, had found Chaval at the Bon-Joyeux dancing with Catherine, while
Philoméne by herself was looking on. Neither Levaque nor Zacharie had
reappeared. As there were no benches around the ball-room, Catherine
came after each dance to rest at her father's table. They called
Philoméne, but she preferred to stand up. The twilight was coming on;
the three musicians played furiously; one could only see in the hall
the movement of hips and breasts in the midst of a confusion of arms.
The appearance of the four lamps was greeted noisily, and suddenly
everything was lit up--the red faces, the dishevelled hair sticking
to the skin, the flying skirts spreading abroad the strong odour of
perspiring couples. Maheu pointed out Mouquette to Étienne: she was as
round and greasy as a bladder of lard, revolving violently in the arms
of a tall, lean lander. She had been obliged to console herself and
take a man.

At last, at eight o'clock, Maheude appeared with Estelle at her breast,
followed by Alzire, Henri, and Lénore. She had come there straight
to her husband without fear of missing him. They could sup later on;
as yet nobody was hungry, with their stomachs soaked in coffee and
thickened with beer. Other women came in, and they whispered together
when they saw, behind Maheude, the Levaque woman enter with Bouteloup,
who led in by the hand Achille and Désirée, Philoméne's little ones.
The two neighbours seemed to be getting on well together, one turning
round to chat with the other. On the way there had been a great
explanation, and Maheude had resigned herself to Zacharie's marriage,
in despair at the loss of her eldest son's wages, but overcome by the
thought that she could not hold it back any longer without injustice.
She was trying, therefore, to put a good face on it, though with an
anxious heart, as a housekeeper who was asking herself how she could
make both ends meet now that the best part of her purse was going.

"Place yourself there, neighbour," she said, pointing to a table near
that where Maheu was drinking with Étienne and Pierron.

"Is not my husband with you?" asked the Levaque woman.

The others told her that he would soon come. They were all seated
together in a heap, Bouteloup and the youngsters so tightly squeezed
among the drinkers that the two tables only formed one. There was a
call for drinks. Seeing her mother and her children Philoméne had
decided to come near. She accepted a chair, and seemed pleased to hear
that she was at last to be married; then, as they were looking for
Zacharie, she replied in her soft voice:

"I am waiting for him; he is over there."

Maheu had exchanged a look with his wife. She had then consented? He
became serious and smoked in silence. He also felt anxiety for the
morrow in face of the ingratitude of these children, who got married
one by one leaving their parents in wretchedness.

The dancing still went on, and the end of a quadrille drowned the
ball-room in red dust; the walls cracked, a cornet produced shrill
whistling sounds like a locomotive in distress; and when the dancers
stopped they were smoking like horses.

"Do you remember?" said the Levaque woman, bending towards Maheude's
ear; "you talked of strangling Catherine if she did anything foolish!"

Chaval brought Catherine back to the family table, and both of them
standing behind the father finished their glasses.

"Bah!" murmured Maheude, with an air of resignation, "one says things
like that--. But what quiets me is that she will not have a child; I
feel sure of that. You see if she is confined, and obliged to marry,
what shall we do for a living then?"

Now the cornet was whistling a polka, and as the deafening noise began
again, Maheu, in a low voice, communicated an idea to his wife. Why
should they not take a lodger? Étienne, for example, who was looking
out for quarters? They would have room since Zacharie was going to
leave them, and the money that they would lose in that direction would
be in part regained in the other. Maheude's face brightened; certainly
it was a good idea, it must be arranged. She seemed to be saved from
starvation once more, and her good humour returned so quickly that she
ordered a new round of drinks.

Étienne, meanwhile, was seeking to indoctrinate Pierron, to whom he was
explaining his plan of a Provident Fund. He had made him promise to
subscribe, when he was imprudent enough to reveal his real aim.

"And if we go out on strike you can see how useful that fund will be.
We can snap our fingers at the Company, we shall have there a fund to
fight against them. Eh? don't you think so?"

Pierron lowered his eyes and grew pale; he stammered:

"I'll think over it. Good conduct, that's the best Provident Fund."

Then Maheu took possession of Étienne, and squarely, like a good man,
proposed to take him as a lodger. The young man accepted at once,
anxious to live in the settlement with the idea of being nearer to his
mates. The matter was settled in three words, Maheude declaring that
they would wait for the marriage of the children.

Just then, Zacharie at last came back, with Mouquet and Levaque. The
three brought in the odours of the Volcan, a breath of gin, a musky
acidity of ill-kept girls. They were very tipsy and seemed well pleased
with themselves, digging their elbows into each other and grinning.
When he knew that he was at last to be married Zacharie began to laugh
so loudly that he choked. Philoméne peacefully declared that she would
rather see him laugh than cry. As there were no more chairs, Bouteloup
had moved so as to give up half of his to Levaque. And the latter,
suddenly much affected by realizing that the whole family party was
there, once more had beer served out.

"By the Lord! we don't amuse ourselves so often!" he roared.

They remained there till ten o'clock. Women continued to arrive, either
to join or to take away their men; bands of children followed in rows,
and the mothers no longer troubled themselves, pulling out their long
pale breasts, like sacks of oats, and smearing their chubby babies with
milk; while the little ones who were already able to walk, gorged with
beer and on all fours beneath the table, relieved themselves without
shame. It was a rising sea of beer, from Madame Désir's disembowelled
barrels, the beer enlarged every belly, flowing from noses, eyes, and
everywhere. So puffed out was the crowd that every one had a shoulder
or knee poking into his neighbour; all were cheerful and merry in thus
feeling each other's elbows. A continuous laugh kept their mouths open
from ear to ear. The heat was like an oven; they were roasting and felt
themselves at ease with glistening skin, gilded in a thick smoke from
the pipes; the only discomfort was when one had to move away; from time
to time a girl rose, went to the other end, near the pump, lifted her
clothes, and then came back. Beneath the garlands of painted paper the
dancers could no longer see each other, they perspired so much; this
encouraged the trammers to tumble the putters over, catching them at
random by the hips. But where a girl tumbled with a man over her, the
cornet covered their fall with its furious music; the swirl of feet
wrapped them round as if the ball had collapsed upon them.

Someone who was passing warned Pierron that his daughter Lydie was
sleeping at the door, across the pavement. She had drunk her share
of the stolen bottle and was tipsy. He had to carry her away in his
arms while Jeanlin and Bébert, who were more sober, followed him
behind, thinking it a great joke. This was the signal for departure,
and several families came out of the Bon-Joyeux, the Maheus and the
Levaques deciding to return to the settlement. At the same moment
Father Bonnemort and old Mouque also left Montsou, walking in the
same somnambulistic manner, preserving the obstinate silence of their
recollections. And they all went back together, passing for the last
time through the fair, where the frying-pans were coagulating, and by
the estaminets, from which the last glasses were flowing in a stream
towards the middle of the road. The storm was still threatening, and
sounds of laughter arose as they left the lighted houses to lose
themselves in the dark country around. Panting breaths arose from the
ripe wheat; many children must have been made on that night. They
arrived in confusion at the settlement. Neither the Levaques nor the
Maheus supped with appetite, and the latter kept on dropping off to
sleep while finishing their morning's boiled beef.

Étienne had led away Chaval for one more drink at Rasseneur's.

"I am with you!" said Chaval, when his mate had explained the matter of
the Provident Fund. "Put it there! you're a fine fellow!"

The beginning of drunkenness was flaming in Étienne's eyes. He
exclaimed:

"Yes, let's join hands. As for me, you know I would give up everything
for the sake of justice, both drink and girls. There's only one thing
that warms my heart, and that is the thought that we are going to sweep
away these bourgeois."



CHAPTER III


Towards the middle of August, Étienne settled with the Maheus, Zacharie
having married and obtained from the Company a vacant house in the
settlement for Philoméne and the two children. During the first days,
the young man experienced some constraint in the presence of Catherine.
There was a constant intimacy, as he everywhere replaced the elder
brother, sharing Jeanlin's bed over against the big sister's. Going to
bed and getting up he had to dress and undress near her, and see her
take off and put on her garments. When the last skirt fell from her,
she appeared of pallid whiteness, that transparent snow of anaemic
blondes; and he experienced a constant emotion in finding her, with
hands and face already spoilt, as white as if dipped in milk from her
heels to her neck, where the line of tan stood out sharply like a
necklace of amber. He pretended to turn away; but little by little he
knew her: the feet at first which his lowered eyes met; then a glimpse
of a knee when she slid beneath the coverlet; then her bosom with
little rigid breasts as she leant over the bowl in the morning. She
would hasten without looking at him, and in ten seconds was undressed
and stretched beside Alzire, with so supple and snake-like a movement
that he had scarcely taken off his shoes when she disappeared, turning
her back and only showing her heavy knot of hair.

She never had any reason to be angry with him. If a sort of obsession
made him watch her in spite of himself at the moment when she lay down,
he avoided all practical jokes or dangerous pastimes. The parents were
there, and besides he still had for her a feeling, half of friendship
and half of spite, which prevented him from treating her as a girl to
be desired, in the midst of the abandonment of their now common life in
dressing, at meals, during work, where nothing of them remained secret,
not even their most intimate needs. All the modesty of the family had
taken refuge in the daily bath, for which the young girl now went
upstairs alone, while the men bathed below one after the other.

At the end of the first month, Étienne and Catherine seemed no longer
to see each other when in the evening, before extinguishing the candle,
they moved about the room, undressed. She had ceased to hasten, and
resumed her old custom of doing up her hair at the edge of her bed,
while her arms, raised in the air, lifted her chemise to her thighs,
and he, without his trousers, sometimes helped her, looking for the
hairpins that she had lost. Custom killed the shame of being naked;
they found it natural to be like this, for they were doing no harm, and
it was not their fault if there was only one room for so many people.
Sometimes, however, a trouble came over them suddenly, at moments when
they had no guilty thought. After some nights when he had not seen
her pale body, he suddenly saw her white all over, with a whiteness
which shook him with a shiver, which obliged him to turn away for fear
of yielding to the desire to take her. On other evenings, without
any apparent reason, she would be overcome by a panic of modesty and
hasten to slip between the sheets as if she felt the hands of this lad
seizing her. Then, when the candle was out, they both knew that they
were not sleeping but were thinking of each other in spite of their
weariness. This made them restless and sulky all the following day;
they liked best the tranquil evenings when they could behave together
like comrades.

Étienne only complained of Jeanlin, who slept curled up. Alzire
slept lightly, and Lénore and Henri were found in the morning, in
each other's arms, exactly as they had gone to sleep. In the dark
house there was no other sound than the snoring of Maheu and Maheude,
rolling out at regular intervals like a forge bellows. On the whole,
Étienne was better off than at Rasseneur's; the bed was tolerable and
the sheets were changed every month. He had better soup, too, and
only suffered from the rarity of meat. But they were all in the same
condition, and for forty-five francs he could not demand rabbit to
every meal. These forty-five francs helped the family and enabled them
to make both ends meet, though always leaving some small debts and
arrears; so the Maheus were grateful to their lodger; his linen was
washed and mended, his buttons sewn on, and his affairs kept in order;
in fact he felt all around him a woman's neatness and care.

It was at this time that Étienne began to understand the ideas
that were buzzing in his brain. Up till then he had only felt an
instinctive revolt in the midst of the inarticulate fermentation among
his mates. All sorts of confused questions came before him: Why are
some miserable? why are others rich? why are the former beneath the
heel of the latter without hope of ever taking their place? And his
first stage was to understand his ignorance. A secret shame, a hidden
annoyance, gnawed him from that time; he knew nothing, he dared not
talk about these things which were working in him like a passion--the
equality of all men, and the equity which demanded a fair division
of the earth's wealth. He thus took to the methodless study of those
who in ignorance feel the fascination of knowledge. He now kept up a
regular correspondence with Pluchart, who was better educated than
himself and more advanced in the Socialist movement. He had books sent
to him, and his ill-digested reading still further excited his brain,
especially a medical book entitled _Hygiéne du Mineur_, in which
a Belgian doctor had summed up the evils of which the people in coal
mines were dying; without counting treatises on political economy,
incomprehensible in their technical dryness, Anarchist pamphlets which
upset his ideas, and old numbers of newspapers which he preserved as
irrefutable arguments for possible discussions. Souvarine also lent him
books, and the work on Co-operative Societies had made him dream for a
month of a universal exchange association abolishing money and basing
the whole social life on work. The shame of his ignorance left him, and
a certain pride came to him now that he felt himself thinking.

During these first months Étienne retained the ecstasy of a novice; his
heart was bursting with generous indignation against the oppressors,
and looking forward to the approaching triumph of the oppressed.
He had not yet manufactured a system, his reading had been too
vague. Rasseneur's practical demands were mixed up in his mind with
Souvarine's violent and destructive methods, and when he came out of
the Avantage, where he was to be found nearly every day railing with
them against the Company, he walked as if in a dream, assisting at
a radical regeneration of nations to be effected without one broken
window or a single drop of blood. The methods of execution remained
obscure; he preferred to think that things would go very well, for
he lost his head as soon as he tried to formulate a programme of
reconstruction. He even showed himself full of illogical moderation;
he often said that we must banish politics from the social question, a
phrase which he had read and which seemed a useful one to repeat among
the phlegmatic colliers with whom he lived.

Every evening now, at the Maheus', they delayed half an hour before
going up to bed. Étienne always introduced the same subject. As his
nature became more refined he found himself wounded by the promiscuity
of the settlement. Were they beasts to be thus penned together in the
midst of the fields, so tightly packed that one could not change one's
shirt without exhibiting one's backside to the neighbours? And how
bad it was for health; and boys and girls were forced to grow corrupt
together.

"Lord!" replied Maheu, "if there were more money there would be more
comfort. All the same it's true enough that it's good for no one to
live piled up like that. It always ends with making the men drunk and
the girls big-bellied."

And the family began to talk, each having his say, while the petroleum
lamp vitiated the air of the room, already stinking of fried onion. No,
life was certainly not a joke. One had to work like a brute at labour
which was once a punishment for convicts; one left one's skin there
oftener than was one's turn, all that without even getting meat on the
table in the evening. No doubt one had one's feed; one ate, indeed, but
so little, just enough to suffer without dying, overcome with debts and
pursued as if one had stolen the bread. When Sunday came one slept from
weariness. The only pleasures were to get drunk and to get a child with
one's wife; then the beer swelled the belly, and the child, later on,
left you to go to the dogs. No, it was certainly not a joke.

Then Maheude joined in.

"The bother is, you see, when you have to say to yourself that it won't
change. When you're young you think that happiness will come some time,
you hope for things; and then the wretchedness begins always over
again, and you get shut up in it. Now, I don't wish harm to any one,
but there are times when this injustice makes me mad."

There was silence; they were all breathing with the vague discomfort
of this closed-in horizon. Father Bonnemort only, if he was there,
opened his eyes with surprise, for in his time people used not to worry
about things; they were born in the coal and they hammered at the seam,
without asking for more; while now there was an air stirring which made
the colliers ambitious.

"It don't do to spit at anything," he murmured. "A good glass is a good
glass. As to the masters, they're often rascals; but there always will
be masters, won't there? What's the use of racking your brains over
those things?"

Étienne at once became animated. What! The worker was to be forbidden
to think! Why! that was just it; things would change now because the
worker had begun to think. In the old man's time the miner lived in
the mine like a brute, like a machine for extracting coal, always
under the earth, with ears and eyes stopped to outward events. So
the rich, who governed, found it easy to sell him and buy him, and
to devour his flesh; he did not even know what was going on. But now
the miner was waking up down there, germinating in the earth just as
a grain germinates; and some fine day he would spring up in the midst
of the fields: yes, men would spring up, an army of men who would
re-establish justice. Is it not true that all citizens are equal since
the Revolution, because they vote together? Why should the worker
remain the slave of the master who pays him? The big companies with
their machines were crushing everything, and one no longer had against
them the ancient guarantees when people of the same trade, united in a
body, were able to defend themselves. It was for that, by God, and for
no other reason, that all would burst up one day, thanks to education.
One had only to look into the settlement itself: the grandfathers could
not sign their names, the fathers could do so, and as for the sons,
they read and wrote like schoolmasters. Ah! it was springing up, it was
springing up, little by little, a rough harvest of men who would ripen
in the sun! From the moment when they were no longer each of them stuck
to his place for his whole existence, and when they had the ambition to
take a neighbour's place, why should they not hit out with their fists
and try for the mastery?

Maheu was shaken but remained full of doubts.

"As soon as you move they give you back your certificate," he said.
"The old man is right; it will always be the miner who gets all the
trouble, without a chance of a leg of mutton now and then as a reward."

Maheude, who had been silent for a while, awoke as from a dream.

"But if what the priests tell is true, if the poor people in this world
become the rich ones in the next!"

A burst of laughter interrupted her; even the children shrugged their
shoulders, being incredulous in the open air, keeping a secret fear of
ghosts in the pit, but glad of the empty sky.

"Ah! bosh! the priests!" exclaimed Maheu. "If they believed that,
they'd eat less and work more, so as to reserve a better place for
themselves up there. No, when one's dead, one's dead."

Maheude sighed deeply.

"Oh, Lord, Lord!"

Then her hands fell on to her knees with a gesture of immense dejection:

"Then if that's true, we are done for, we are."

They all looked at one another. Father Bonnemort spat into his
handkerchief, while Maheu sat with his extinguished pipe, which he had
forgotten, in his mouth. Alzire listened between Lénore and Henri,
who were sleeping on the edge of the table. But Catherine, with her
chin in her hand, never took her large clear eyes off Étienne while he
was protesting, declaring his faith, and opening out the enchanting
future of his social dream. Around them the settlement was asleep; one
only heard the stray cries of a child or the complaints of a belated
drunkard. In the parlour the clock ticked slowly, and a damp freshness
arose from the sanded floor in spite of the stuffy air.

"Fine ideas!" said the young man; "why do you need a good God and his
paradise to make you happy? Haven't you got it in your own power to
make yourselves happy on earth?"

With his enthusiastic voice he spoke on and on. The closed horizon was
bursting out; a gap of light was opening in the sombre lives of these
poor people. The eternal wretchedness, beginning over and over again,
the brutalizing labour, the fate of a beast who gives his wool and
has his throat cut, all the misfortune disappeared, as though swept
away by a great flood of sunlight; and beneath the dazzling gleam of
fairyland justice descended from heaven. Since the good God was dead,
justice would assure the happiness of men, and equality and brotherhood
would reign. A new society would spring up in a day just as in dreams,
an immense town with the splendour of a mirage, in which each citizen
lived by his work, and took his share in the common joys. The old
rotten world had fallen to dust; a young humanity purged from its
crimes formed but a single nation of workers, having for their motto:
"To each according to his deserts, and to each desert according to its
performance." And this dream grew continually larger and more beautiful
and more seductive as it mounted higher in the impossible.

At first Maheude refused to listen, possessed by a deep dread. No, no,
it was too beautiful; it would not do to embark upon these ideas, for
they made life seem abominable afterwards, and one would have destroyed
everything in the effort to be happy. When she saw Maheu's eyes shine,
and that he was troubled and won over, she became restless, and
exclaimed, interrupting Étienne:

"Don't listen, my man! You can see he's only telling us fairy-tales. Do
you think the bourgeois would ever consent to work as we do?"

But little by little the charm worked on her also. Her imagination was
aroused and she smiled at last, entering his marvellous world of hope.
It was so sweet to forget for a while the sad reality! When one lives
like the beasts with face bent towards the earth, one needs a corner
of falsehood where one can amuse oneself by regaling on the things one
will never possess. And what made her enthusiastic and brought her into
agreement with the young man was the idea of justice.

"Now, there you're right!" she exclaimed. "When a thing's just I don't
mind being cut to pieces for it. And it's true enough! it would be just
for us to have a turn."

Then Maheu ventured to become excited.

"Blast it all! I am not rich, but I would give five francs to keep
alive to see that. What a hustling, eh? Will it be soon? And how can we
set about it?"

Étienne began talking again. The old social system was cracking; it
could not last more than a few months, he affirmed roundly. As to the
methods of execution, he spoke more vaguely, mixing up his reading,
and fearing before ignorant hearers to enter on explanations where he
might lose himself. All the systems had their share in it, softened by
the certainty of easy triumph, a universal kiss which would bring to an
end all class misunderstandings; without taking count, however, of the
thick-heads among the masters and bourgeois whom it would perhaps be
necessary to bring to reason by force. And the Maheus looked as if they
understood, approving and accepting miraculous solutions with the blind
faith of new believers, like those Christians of the early days of the
Church, who awaited the coming of a perfect society on the dunghill of
the ancient world. Little Alzire picked up a few words, and imagined
happiness under the form of a very warm house, where children could
play and eat as long as they liked. Catherine, without moving, her chin
always resting in her hand, kept her eyes fixed on Étienne, and when he
stopped a slight shudder passed over her, and she was quite pale as if
she felt the cold.

But Maheude looked at the clock.

"Past nine! Can it be possible? We shall never get up to-morrow."

And the Maheus left the table with hearts ill at ease and in despair.
It seemed to them that they had just been rich and that they had now
suddenly fallen back into the mud. Father Bonnemort, who was setting
out for the pit, growled that those sort of stories wouldn't make the
soup better; while the others went upstairs in single file, noticing
the dampness of the walls and the pestiferous stuffiness of the air.
Upstairs, amid the heavy slumber of the settlement when Catherine had
got into bed last and blown out the candle, Étienne heard her tossing
feverishly before getting to sleep.

Often at these conversations the neighbours came in: Levaque, who
grew excited at the idea of a general sharing; Pierron, who prudently
went to bed as soon as they attacked the Company. At long intervals
Zacharie came in for a moment; but politics bored him, he preferred to
go off and drink a glass at the Avantage. As to Chaval, he would go to
extremes and wanted to draw blood. Nearly every evening he passed an
hour with the Maheus; in this assiduity there was a certain unconfessed
jealousy, the fear that he would be robbed of Catherine. This girl, of
whom he was already growing tired, had become precious to him now that
a man slept near her and could take her at night.

Étienne's influence increased; he gradually revolutionized the
settlement. His propaganda was unseen, and all the more sure since he
was growing in the estimation of all. Maheude, notwithstanding the
caution of a prudent housekeeper, treated him with consideration, as
a young man who paid regularly and neither drank nor gambled, with
his nose always in a book; she spread abroad his reputation among the
neighbours as an educated lad, a reputation which they abused by asking
him to write their letters. He was a sort of business man, charged with
correspondence and consulted by households in affairs of difficulty.
Since September he had thus at last been able to establish his famous
Provident Fund, which was still very precarious, only including the
inhabitants of the settlement; but he hoped to be able to obtain the
adhesion of the miners at all the pits, especially if the Company,
which had remained passive, continued not to interfere. He had been
made secretary of the association and he even received a small salary
for the clerking. This made him almost rich. If a married miner can
with difficulty make both ends meet, a sober lad who has no burdens can
even manage to save.

From this time a slow transformation took place in Étienne. Certain
instincts of refinement and comfort which had slept during his poverty
were now revealed. He began to buy cloth garments; he also bought
a pair of elegant boots; he became a big man. The whole settlement
grouped round him. The satisfaction of his self-love was delicious;
he became intoxicated with this first enjoyment of popularity; to be
at the head of others, to command, he who was so young, and but the
day before had been a mere labourer, this filled him with pride, and
enlarged his dream of an approaching revolution in which he was to play
a part. His face changed: he became serious and put on airs, while
his growing ambition inflamed his theories and pushed him to ideas of
violence.

But autumn was advancing, and the October cold had blighted the
little gardens of the settlement. Behind the thin lilacs the trammers
no longer tumbled the putters over on the shed, and only the winter
vegetables remained, the cabbages pearled with white frost, the leeks
and the salads. Once more the rains were beating down on the red tiles
and flowing down into the tubs beneath the gutters with the sound of a
torrent. In every house the stove piled up with coal was never cold,
and poisoned the close parlours. It was the season of wretchedness
beginning once more.

In October, on one of the first frosty nights, Étienne, feverish after
his conversation below, could not sleep. He had seen Catherine glide
beneath the coverlet and then blow out the candle. She also appeared
to be quite overcome, and tormented by one of those fits of modesty
which still made her hasten sometimes, and so awkwardly that she only
uncovered herself more. In the darkness she lay as though dead; but
he knew that she also was awake, and he felt that she was thinking of
him just as he was thinking of her: this mute exchange of their beings
had never before filled them with such trouble. The minutes went by
and neither he nor she moved, only their breathing was embarrassed in
spite of their efforts to retain it. Twice over he was on the point of
rising and taking her. It was idiotic to have such a strong desire for
each other and never to satisfy it. Why should they thus sulk against
what they desired? The children were asleep, she was quite willing; he
was certain that she was waiting for him, stifling, and that she would
close her arms round him in silence with clenched teeth. Nearly an hour
passed. He did not go to take her, and she did not turn round for fear
of calling him. The more they lived side by side, the more a barrier
was raised of shames, repugnancies, delicacies of friendship, which
they could not explain even to themselves.



CHAPTER IV


"Listen," said Maheude to her man, "when you go to Montsou for the pay,
just bring me back a pound of coffee and a kilo of sugar."

He was sewing one of his shoes, in order to spare the cobbling.

"Good!" he murmured, without leaving his task.

"I should like you to go to the butcher's too. A bit of veal, eh? It's
so long since we saw it."

This time he raised his head.

"Do you think, then, that I've got thousands coming in? The fortnight's
pay is too little as it is, with their confounded idea of always
stopping work."

They were both silent. It was after breakfast, one Saturday, at the end
of October. The Company, under the pretext of the derangement caused by
payment, had on this day once more suspended output in all their pits.
Seized by panic at the growing industrial crisis, and not wishing to
augment their already considerable stock, they profited by the smallest
pretexts to force their ten thousand workers to rest.

"You know that Étienne is waiting for you at Rasseneur's," began
Maheude again. "Take him with you; he'll be more clever than you are in
clearing up matters if they haven't counted all your hours."

Maheu nodded approval.

"And just talk to those gentlemen about your father's affair. The
doctor's on good terms with the directors. It's true, isn't it, old un,
that the doctor's mistaken, and that you can still work?"

For ten days Father Bonnemort, with benumbed paws, as he said, had
remained nailed to his chair. She had to repeat her question, and he
growled:

"Sure enough, I can work. One isn't done for because one's legs are
bad. All that is just stories they make up, so as not to give the
hundred-and-eighty-franc pension."

Maheude thought of the old man's forty sous, which he would, perhaps,
never bring in any more, and she uttered a cry of anguish:

"My God! we shall soon be all dead if this goes on."

"When one is dead," said Maheu, "one doesn't get hungry."

He put some nails into his shoes, and decided to set out. The
Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement would not be paid till towards four
o'clock. The men did not hurry, therefore, but waited about, going off
one by one, beset by the women, who implored them to come back at once.
Many gave them commissions, to prevent them forgetting themselves in
public-houses.

At Rasseneur's Étienne had received news. Disquieting rumours were
flying about; it was said that the Company were more and more
discontented over the timbering. They were overwhelming the workmen
with fines, and a conflict appeared inevitable. That was, however, only
the avowed dispute; beneath it there were grave and secret causes of
complication.

Just as Étienne arrived, a comrade, who was drinking a glass on
his return from Montsou, was telling that an announcement had been
stuck up at the cashier's; but he did not quite know what was on the
announcement. A second entered, then a third, and each brought a
different story. It seemed certain, however, that the Company had taken
a resolution.

"What do you say about it, eh?" asked Étienne, sitting down near
Souvarine at a table where nothing was to be seen but a packet of
tobacco.

The engine-man did not hurry, but finished rolling his cigarette.

"I say that it was easy to foresee. They want to push you to extremes."

He alone had a sufficiently keen intelligence to analyse the situation.
He explained it in his quiet way. The Company, suffering from the
crisis, had been forced to reduce their expenses if they were not to
succumb, and it was naturally the workers who would have to tighten
their bellies; under some pretext or another the Company would nibble
at their wages. For two months the coal had been remaining at the
surface of their pits, and nearly all the workshops were resting. As
the Company did not dare to rest in this way, terrified at the ruinous
inaction, they were meditating a middle course, perhaps a strike, from
which the miners would come out crushed and worse paid. Then the new
Provident Fund was disturbing them, as it was a threat for the future,
while a strike would relieve them of it, by exhausting it when it was
still small.

Rasseneur had seated himself beside Étienne, and both of them were
listening in consternation. They could talk aloud, because there was no
one there but Madame Rasseneur, seated at the counter.

"What an idea!" murmured the innkeeper; "what's the good of it? The
Company has no interest in a strike, nor the men either. It would be
best to come to an understanding."

This was very sensible. He was always on the side of reasonable
demands. Since the rapid popularity of his old lodger, he had even
exaggerated this system of possible progress, saying they would
obtain nothing if they wished to have everything at once. In his fat,
good-humoured nature, nourished on beer, a secret jealousy was forming,
increased by the desertion of his bar, into which the workmen from
the Voreux now came more rarely to drink and to listen; and he thus
sometimes even began to defend the Company, forgetting the rancour of
an old miner who had been turned off.

"Then you are against the strike?" cried Madame Rasseneur, without
leaving the counter.

And as he energetically replied, "Yes!" she made him hold his tongue.

"Bah! you have no courage; let these gentlemen speak."

Étienne was meditating, with his eyes fixed on the glass which she had
served to him. At last he raised his head.

"I dare say it's all true what our mate tells us, and we must get
resigned to this strike if they force it on us. Pluchart has just
written me some very sensible things on this matter. He's against the
strike too, for the men would suffer as much as the masters, and it
wouldn't come to anything decisive. Only it seems to him a capital
chance to get our men to make up their minds to go into his big
machine. Here's his letter."

In fact, Pluchart, in despair at the suspicion which the International
aroused among the miners at Montsou, was hoping to see them enter in a
mass if they were forced to fight against the Company. In spite of his
efforts, Étienne had not been able to place a single member's card,
and he had given his best efforts to his Provident Fund, which was
much better received. But this fund was still so small that it would
be quickly exhausted, as Souvarine said, and the strikers would then
inevitably throw themselves into the Working Men's Association so that
their brothers in every country could come to their aid.

"How much have you in the fund?" asked Rasseneur. "Hardly three
thousand francs," replied Étienne, "and you know that the directors
sent for me yesterday. Oh! they were very polite; they repeated that
they wouldn't prevent their men from forming a reserve fund. But I
quite understood that they wanted to control it. We are bound to have a
struggle over that."

The innkeeper was walking up and down, whistling contemptuously. "Three
thousand francs! what can you do with that! It wouldn't yield six days'
bread; and if we counted on foreigners, such as the people in England,
one might go to bed at once and turn up one's toes. No, it was too
foolish, this strike!"

Then for the first time bitter words passed between these two men who
usually agreed together at last, in their common hatred of capital.

"We shall see! and you, what do you say about it?" repeated Étienne,
turning towards Souvarine.

The latter replied with his usual phrase of habitual contempt.

"A strike? Foolery!"

Then, in the midst of the angry silence, he added gently:

"On the whole, I shouldn't say no if it amuses you; it ruins the one
side and kills the other, and that is always so much cleared away. Only
in that way it will take quite a thousand years to renew the world.
Just begin by blowing up this prison in which you are all being done to
death!"

With his delicate hand he pointed out the Voreux, the buildings of
which could be seen through the open door. But an unforeseen drama
interrupted him: Poland, the big tame rabbit, which had ventured
outside, came bounding back, fleeing from the stones of a band of
trammers; and in her terror, with fallen ears and raised tail, she took
refuge against his legs, scratching and imploring him to take her up.
When he had placed her on his knees, he sheltered her with both hands,
and fell into that kind of dreamy somnolence into which the caress of
this soft warm fur always plunged him.

Almost at the same time Maheu came in. He would drink nothing, in spite
of the polite insistence of Madame Rasseneur, who sold her beer as
though she made a present of it. Étienne had risen, and both of them
set out for Montsou.

On pay-day at the Company's Yards, Montsou seemed to be in the midst of
a fete as on fine Sunday feast-days. Bands of miners arrived from all
the settlements. The cashier's office being very small, they preferred
to wait at the door, stationed in groups on the pavement, barring the
way in a crowd that was constantly renewed. Hucksters profited by the
occasion and installed themselves with their movable stalls that sold
even pottery and cooked meats. But it was especially the estaminets
and the bars which did a good trade, for the miners before being paid
went to the counters to get patience, and returned to them to wet
their pay as soon as they had it in their pockets. But they were very
sensible, except when they finished it at the Volcan. As Maheu and
Étienne advanced among the groups they felt that on that day a deep
exasperation was rising up. It was not the ordinary indifference with
which the money was taken and spent at the publics. Fists were clenched
and violent words were passing from mouth to mouth.

"Is it true, then," asked Maheu of Chaval, whom he met before the
Estaminet Piquette, "that they've played the dirty trick?"

But Chaval contented himself by replying with a furious growl, throwing
a sidelong look on Étienne. Since the working had been renewed he had
hired himself on with others, more and more bitten by envy against this
comrade, the new-comer who posed as a boss and whose boots, as he said,
were licked by the whole settlement. This was complicated by a lover's
jealousy. He never took Catherine to Réquillart now or behind the
pit-bank without accusing her in abominable language of sleeping with
her mother's lodger; then, seized by savage desire, he would stifle her
with caresses.

Maheu asked him another question:

"Is it the Voreux's turn now?"

And when he turned his back after nodding affirmatively, both men
decided to enter the Yards.

The counting-house was a small rectangular room, divided in two by a
grating. On the forms along the wall five or six miners were waiting;
while the cashier assisted by a clerk was paying another who stood
before the wicket with his cap in his hand. Above the form on the
left, a yellow placard was stuck up, quite fresh against the smoky
grey of the plaster, and it was in front of this that the men had
been constantly passing all the morning. They entered two or three
at a time, stood in front of it, and then went away without a word,
shrugging their shoulders as if their backs were crushed.

Two colliers were just then standing in front of the announcement, a
young one with a square brutish head and a very thin old one, his face
dull with age. Neither of them could read; the young one spelt, moving
his lips, the old one contented himself with gazing stupidly. Many came
in thus to look, without understanding.

"Read us that there!" said Maheu, who was not very strong either in
reading, to his companion.

Then Étienne began to read him the announcement. It was a notice from
the Company to the miners of all the pits, informing them that in
consequence of the lack of care bestowed on the timbering, and being
weary of inflicting useless fines, the Company had resolved to apply
a new method of payment for the extraction of coal. Henceforward they
would pay for the timbering separately, by the cubic metre of wood
taken down and used, based on the quantity necessary for good work.
The price of the tub of coal extracted would naturally be lowered, in
the proportion of fifty centimes to forty, according to the nature
and distance of the cuttings, and a somewhat obscure calculation
endeavoured to show that this diminution of ten centimes would be
exactly compensated by the price of the timbering. The Company added
also that, wishing to leave every one time to convince himself of the
advantages presented by this new scheme, they did not propose to apply
it till Monday, the 1st of December.

"Don't read so loud over there," shouted the cashier. "We can't hear
what we are saying."

Étienne finished reading without paying attention to this observation.
His voice trembled, and when he had reached the end they all continued
to gaze steadily at the placard. The old miner and the young one looked
as though they expected something more; then they went away with
depressed shoulders.

"Good God!" muttered Maheu.

He and his companions sat down absorbed, with lowered heads, and while
files of men continued to pass before the yellow paper they made
calculations. Were they being made fun of? They could never make up
with the timbering for the ten centimes taken off the tram. At most
they could only get to eight centimes, so the Company would be robbing
them of two centimes, without counting the time taken by careful work.
This, then, was what this disguised lowering of wages really came to.
The Company was economizing out of the miners' pockets.

"Good Lord! Good Lord!" repeated Maheu, raising his head. "We should be
bloody fools if we took that."

But the wicket being free he went up to be paid. The heads only of the
workings presented themselves at the desk and then divided the money
between their men to save time.

"Maheu and associates," said the clerk, "Filonniére seam, cutting No.
7."

He searched through the lists which were prepared from the inspection
of the tickets on which the captains stated every day for each stall
the number of trams extracted. Then he repeated:

"Maheu and associates, Filonniére seam, cutting No. 7. One hundred and
thirty-five francs."

The cashier paid.

"Beg pardon, sir," stammered the pikeman in surprise. "Are you sure you
have not made a mistake?"

He looked at this small sum of money without picking it up, frozen by
a shudder which went to his heart. It was true he was expecting bad
payment, but it could not come to so little or he must have calculated
wrong. When he had given their shares to Zacharie, Étienne, and the
other mate who replaced Chaval, there would remain at most fifty francs
for himself, his father, Catherine, and Jeanlin.

"No, no, I've made no mistake," replied the clerk. "There are two
Sundays and four rest days to be taken off; that makes nine days of
work." Maheu followed this calculation in a low voice: nine days gave
him about thirty francs, eighteen to Catherine, nine to Jeanlin. As
to Father Bonnemort, he only had three days. No matter, by adding the
ninety francs of Zacharie and the two mates, that would surely make
more.

"And don't forget the fines," added the clerk. "Twenty francs for fines
for defective timbering."

The pikeman made a gesture of despair. Twenty francs of fines, four
days of rest! That made out the account. To think that he had once
brought back a fortnight's pay of full a hundred and fifty francs when
Father Bonnemort was working and Zacharie had not yet set up house for
himself!

"Well, are you going to take it?" cried the cashier impatiently. "You
can see there's someone else waiting. If you don't want it, say so."

As Maheu decided to pick up the money with his large trembling hand the
clerk stopped him.

"Wait: I have your name here. Toussaint Maheu, is it not? The general
secretary wishes to speak to you. Go in, he is alone."

The dazed workman found himself in an office furnished with old
mahogany, upholstered with faded green rep. And he listened for five
minutes to the general secretary, a tall sallow gentleman, who spoke
to him over the papers of his bureau without rising. But the buzzing
in his ears prevented him from hearing. He understood vaguely that the
question of his father's retirement would be taken into consideration
with the pension of a hundred and fifty francs, fifty years of age
and forty years' service. Then it seemed to him that the secretary's
voice became harder. There was a reprimand; he was accused of occupying
himself with politics; an allusion was made to his lodger and the
Provident Fund; finally he was advised not to compromise himself with
these follies, he, who was one of the best workmen in the mine. He
wished to protest, but could only pronounce words at random, twisting
his cap between his feverish fingers, and he retired, stuttering:

"Certainly, sir--I can assure you, sir----"

Outside, when he had found Étienne who waiting for him, he broke out:

"Well, I am a bloody fool, I ought to have replied! Not enough money to
get bread, and insults as well! Yes, he has been talking against you;
he told me the settlement was being poisoned. And what's to be done?
Good God! bend one's back and say thank you. He's right, that's the
wisest plan."

Maheu fell silent, overcome at once by rage and fear. Étienne was
gloomily thinking. Once more they traversed the groups who blocked the
road. The exasperation was growing, the exasperation of a calm race,
the muttered warning of a storm, without violent gestures, terrible
to see above this solid mass. A few men understanding accounts had
made calculations, and the two centimes gained by the Company over the
wood were rumoured about, and excited the hardest heads. But it was
especially the rage over this disastrous pay, the rebellion of hunger
against the rest days and the fines. Already there was not enough to
eat, and what would happen if wages were still further lowered? In the
estaminets the anger grew loud, and fury so dried their throats that
the little money taken went over the counters.

From Montsou to the settlement Étienne and Maheu never exchanged
a word. When the latter entered, Maheude, who was alone with the
children, noticed immediately that his hands were empty.

"Well, you're a nice one!" she said. "Where's my coffee and my sugar
and the meat? A bit of veal wouldn't have ruined you."

He made no reply, stifled by the emotion he had been keeping back.
Then the coarse face of this man hardened to work in the mines became
swollen with despair, and large tears broke from his eyes and fell in
a warm rain. He had thrown himself into a chair, weeping like a child,
and throwing fifty francs on the table:

"Here," he stammered. "That's what I've brought you back. That's our
work for all of us."

Maheude looked at Étienne, and saw that he was silent and overwhelmed.
Then she also wept. How were nine people to live for a fortnight on
fifty francs? Her eldest son had left them, the old man could no longer
move his legs: it would soon mean death. Alzire threw herself round
her mother's neck, overcome on hearing her weep. Estelle was howling,
Lénore and Henri were sobbing.

And from the entire settlement there soon arose the same cry of
wretchedness. The men had come back, and each household was lamenting
the disaster of this bad pay. The doors opened, women appeared, crying
aloud outside, as if their complaints could not be held beneath the
ceilings of these small houses. A fine rain was falling, but they did
not feel it, they called one another from the pavements, they showed
one another in the hollow of their hands the money they had received.

"Look! they've given him this. Do they want to make fools of people?"

"As for me, see, I haven't got enough to pay for the fortnight's bread
with."

"And just count mine! I should have to sell my shifts!"

Maheude had come out like the others. A group had formed around the
Levaque woman, who was shouting loudest of all, for her drunkard of
a husband had not even turned up, and she knew that, large or small,
the pay would melt away at the Volcan. Philoméne watched Maheu so that
Zacharie should not get hold of the money. Pierronne was the only one
who seemed fairly calm, for that sneak of a Pierron always arranged
things, no one knew how, so as to have more hours on the captain's
ticket than his mates. But Mother Brulé thought this cowardly of her
son-in-law; she was among the enraged, lean and erect in the midst of
the group, with her fists stretched towards Montsou.

"To think," she cried, without naming the Hennebeaus, "that this
morning I saw their servant go by in a carriage! Yes, the cook in
a carriage with two horses, going to Marchiennes to get fish, sure
enough!"

A clamour arose, and the abuse began again. That servant in a white
apron taken to the market of the neighbouring town in her master's
carriage aroused indignation. While the workers were dying of hunger
they must have their fish, at all costs! Perhaps they would not always
be able to eat their fish: the turn of the poor people would come.
And the ideas sown by Étienne sprang up and expanded in this cry of
revolt. It was impatience before the promised age of gold, a haste to
get a share of the happiness beyond this horizon of misery, closed in
like the grave. The injustice was becoming too great; at last they
would demand their rights, since the bread was being taken out of
their mouths. The women especially would have liked at once to take by
assault this ideal city of progress, in which there was to be no more
wretchedness. It was almost night, and the rain increased while they
were still filling the settlement with their tears in the midst of the
screaming helter-skelter of the children.

That evening at the Avantage the strike was decided on. Rasseneur no
longer struggled against it, and Souvarine accepted it as a first step.
Étienne summed up the situation in a word: if the Company really wanted
a strike then the Company should have a strike.



CHAPTER V


A week passed, and work went on suspiciously and mournfully in
expectation of the conflict.

Among the Maheus the fortnight threatened to be more meagre than
ever. Maheude grew bitter, in spite of her moderation and good sense.
Her daughter Catherine, too, had taken it into her head to stay out
one night. On the following morning she came back so weary and ill
after this adventure that she was not able to go to the pit; and she
told with tears how it was not her fault, for Chaval had kept her,
threatening to beat her if she ran away. He was becoming mad with
jealousy, and wished to prevent her from returning to Étienne's bed,
where he well knew, he said, that the family made her sleep. Maheude
was furious, and, after forbidding her daughter ever to see such a
brute again, talked of going to Montsou to box his ears. But, all the
same, it was a day lost, and the girl, now that she had this lover,
preferred not to change him.

Two days after there was another incident. On Monday and Tuesday
Jeanlin, who was supposed to be quietly engaged on his task at the
Voreux, had escaped, to run away into the marshes and the forest of
Vandame with Bébert and Lydie. He had seduced them; no one knew to what
plunder or to what games of precocious children they had all three
given themselves up. He received a vigorous punishment, a whipping
which his mother applied to him on the pavement outside before the
terrified children of the settlement. Who could have thought such a
thing of children belonging to her, who had cost so much since their
birth, and who ought now to be bringing something in? And in this cry
there was the remembrance of her own hard youth, of the hereditary
misery which made of each little one in the brood a bread-winner later
on.

That morning, when the men and the girl set out for the pit, Maheude
sat up in her bed to say to Jeanlin:

"You know that if you begin that game again, you little beast, I'll
take the skin off your bottom!"

In Maheu's new stall the work was hard. This part of the Filonniére
seam was so thin that the pikemen, squeezed between the wall and the
roof, grazed their elbows at their work. It was, too, becoming very
damp; from hour to hour they feared a rush of water, one of those
sudden torrents which burst through rocks and carry away men. The day
before, as Étienne was violently driving in his pick and drawing it
out, he had received a jet of water in his face; but this was only an
alarm; the cutting simply became damper and more unwholesome. Besides,
he now thought nothing of possible accidents; he forgot himself there
with his mates, careless of peril. They lived in fire-damp without even
feeling its weight on their eyelids, the spider's-web veil which it
left on the eyelashes. Sometimes when the flame of the lamps grew paler
and bluer than usual it attracted attention, and a miner would put his
head against the seam to listen to the low noise of the gas, a noise
of air-bubbles escaping from each crack. But the constant threat was
of landslips; for, besides the insufficiency of the timbering, always
patched up too quickly, the soil, soaked with water, would not hold.

Three times during the day Maheu had been obliged to add to the
planking. It was half-past two, and the men would soon have to ascend.
Lying on his side, Étienne was finishing the cutting of a block, when a
distant growl of thunder shook the whole mine.

"What's that, then?" he cried, putting down his axe to listen.

He had at first thought that the gallery was falling in behind his back.

But Maheu had already glided along the slope of the cutting, saying:

"It's a fall! Quick, quick!"

All tumbled down and hastened, carried away by an impulse of anxious
fraternity. Their lamps danced at their wrists in the deathly silence
which had fallen; they rushed in single file along the passages with
bent backs, as though they were galloping on all fours; and without
slowing this gallop they asked each other questions and threw brief
replies. Where was it, then? In the cuttings, perhaps. No, it came from
below; no, from the haulage. When they arrived at the chimney passage,
they threw themselves into it, tumbling one over the other without
troubling about bruises.

Jeanlin, with skin still red from the whipping of the day before, had
not run away from the pit on this day. He was trotting with naked
feet behind his tram, closing the ventilation doors one by one; when
he was not afraid of meeting a captain he jumped on to the last tram,
which he was not allowed to do for fear he should go to sleep. But
his great amusement was, whenever the tram was shunted to let another
one pass, to go and join Bébert, who was holding the reins in front.
He would come up slyly without his lamp and vigorously pinch his
companion, inventing mischievous monkey tricks, with his yellow hair,
his large ears, his lean muzzle, lit up by little green eyes shining
in the darkness. With morbid precocity, he seemed to have the obscure
intelligence and the quick skill of a human abortion which had returned
to its animal ways.

In the afternoon, Mouque brought Bataille, whose turn it was, to the
trammers; and as the horse was snuffing in the shunting, Jeanlin, who
had glided up to Bébert, asked him:

"What's the matter with the old hack to stop short like that? He'll
break my legs."

Bébert could not reply; he had to hold in Bataille, who was growing
lively at the approach of the other tram. The horse had smelled from
afar his comrade, Trompette, for whom he had felt great tenderness ever
since the day when he had seen him disembarked in the pit. One might
say that it was the affectionate pity of an old philosopher anxious
to console a young friend by imparting to him his own resignation and
patience; for Trompette did not become reconciled, drawing his trams
without any taste for the work, standing with lowered head blinded
by the darkness, and for ever regretting the sun. So every time that
Bataille met him he put out his head snorting, and moistened him with
an encouraging caress.

"By God!" swore Bébert, "there they are, licking each other's skins
again!"

Then, when Trompette had passed, he replied, on the subject of Bataille:

"Oh, he's a cunning old beast! When he stops like that it's because he
guesses there's something in the way, a stone or a hole, and he takes
care of himself; he doesn't want to break his bones. To-day I don't
know what was the matter with him down there after the door. He pushed
it, and stood stock-still. Did you see anything?"

"No," said Jeanlin. "There's water, I've got it up to my knees."

The tram set out again. And, on the following journey, when he had
opened the ventilation door with a blow from his head, Bataille again
refused to advance, neighing and trembling. At last he made up his
mind, and set off with a bound.

Jeanlin, who closed the door, had remained behind. He bent down and
looked at the mud through which he was paddling, then, raising his
lamp, he saw that the wood had given way beneath the continual bleeding
of a spring. Just then a pikeman, one Berloque, who was called Chicot,
had arrived from his cutting, in a hurry to go to his wife who had just
been confined. He also stopped and examined the planking. And suddenly,
as the boy was starting to rejoin his train, a tremendous cracking
sound was heard, and a landslip engulfed the man and the child.

There was deep silence. A thick dust raised by the wind of the fall
passed through the passages. Blinded and choked, the miners came from
every part, even from the farthest stalls, with their dancing lamps
which feebly lighted up this gallop of black men at the bottom of
these molehills. When the first men tumbled against the landslip,
they shouted out and called their mates. A second band, come from the
cutting below, found themselves on the other side of the mass of earth
which stopped up the gallery. It was at once seen that the roof had
fallen in for a dozen metres at most. The damage was not serious. But
all hearts were contracted when a death-rattle was heard from the ruins.

Bébert, leaving his tram, ran up, repeating:

"Jeanlin is underneath! Jeanlin is underneath!"

Maheu, at this very moment, had come out of the passage with Zacharie
and Étienne. He was seized with the fury of despair, and could only
utter oaths:

"My God! my God! my God!"

Catherine, Lydie, and Mouquette, who had also rushed up, began to sob
and shriek with terror in the midst of the fearful disorder, which was
increased by the darkness. The men tried to make them be silent, but
they shrieked louder as each groan was heard.

The captain, Richomme, had come up running, in despair that neither
Négrel, the engineer, nor Dansaert was at the pit. With his ear pressed
against the rocks he listened; and, at last, said those sounds could
not come from a child. A man must certainly be there. Maheu had already
called Jeanlin twenty times over. Not a breath was heard. The little
one must have been smashed up.

And still the groans continued monotonously. They spoke to the agonized
man, asking him his name. The groaning alone replied.

"Look sharp!" repeated Richomme, who had already organized a rescue,
"we can talk afterwards."

From each end the miners attacked the landslip with pick and shovel.
Chaval worked without a word beside Maheu and Étienne, while Zacharie
superintended the removal of the earth. The hour for ascent had come,
and no one had touched food; but they could not go up for their soup
while their mates were in peril. They realized, however, that the
settlement would be disturbed if no one came back, and it was proposed
to send off the women. But neither Catherine nor Mouquette, nor even
Lydie, would move, nailed to the spot with a desire to know what
had happened, and to help. Levaque then accepted the commission of
announcing the landslip up above--a simple accident, which was being
repaired. It was nearly four o'clock; in less than an hour the men had
done a day's work; half the earth would have already been removed if
more rocks had not slid from the roof. Maheu persisted with such energy
that he refused, with a furious gesture, when another man approached to
relieve him for a moment.

"Gently!" said Richomme at last, "we are getting near. We must not
finish them off."

In fact the groaning was becoming more and more distinct. It was a
continuous rattling which guided the workers; and now it seemed to be
beneath their very picks. Suddenly it stopped.

In silence they all looked at one another, and shuddered as they felt
the coldness of death pass in the darkness. They dug on, soaked in
sweat, their muscles tense to breaking. They came upon a foot, and then
began to remove the earth with their hands, freeing the limbs one by
one. The head was not hurt. They turned their lamps on it, and Chicot's
name went round. He was quite warm, with his spinal column broken by a
rock.

"Wrap him up in a covering, and put him in a tram," ordered the
captain. "Now for the lad; look sharp."

Maheu gave a last blow, and an opening was made, communicating with
the men who were clearing away the soil from the other side. They
shouted out that they had just found Jeanlin, unconscious, with both
legs broken, still breathing. It was the father who took up the little
one in his arms, with clenched jaws constantly uttering "My God!" to
express his grief, while Catherine and the other women again began to
shriek.

A procession was quickly formed. Bébert had brought back Bataille,
who was harnessed to the trams. In the first lay Chicot's corpse,
supported by Étienne; in the second, Maheu was seated with Jeanlin,
still unconscious, on his knees, covered by a strip of wool torn from
the ventilation door. They started at a walking pace. On each tram was
a lamp like a red star. Then behind followed the row of miners, some
fifty shadows in single file. Now that they were overcome by fatigue,
they trailed their feet, slipping in the mud, with the mournful
melancholy of a flock stricken by an epidemic. It took them nearly half
an hour to reach the pit-eye. This procession beneath the earth, in the
midst of deep darkness, seemed never to end through galleries which
bifurcated and turned and unrolled.

At the pit-eye Richomme, who had gone on before, had ordered an empty
cage to be reserved. Pierron immediately loaded the two trams. In the
first Maheu remained with his wounded little one on his knees, while in
the other Étienne kept Chicot's corpse between his arms to hold it up.
When the men had piled themselves up in the other decks the cage rose.
It took two minutes. The rain from the tubbing fell very cold, and the
men looked up towards the air impatient to see daylight.

Fortunately a trammer sent to Dr. Vanderhaghen's had found him and
brought him back. Jeanlin and the dead man were placed in the captains'
room, where, from year's end to year's end, a large fire burnt. A
row of buckets with warm water was ready for washing feet; and, two
mattresses having been spread on the floor, the man and the child were
placed on them. Maheu and Étienne alone entered. Outside, putters,
miners, and boys were running about, forming groups and talking in a
low voice.

As soon as the doctor had glanced at Chicot:

"Done for! You can wash him."

Two overseers undressed and then washed with a sponge this corpse
blackened with coal and still dirty with the sweat of work.

"Nothing wrong with the head," said the doctor again, kneeling on
Jeanlin's mattress. "Nor the chest either. Ah! it's the legs which have
given."

He himself undressed the child, unfastening the cap, taking off the
jacket, drawing off the breeches and shirt with the skill of a nurse.
And the poor little body appeared, as lean as an insect, stained with
black dust and yellow earth, marbled by bloody patches. Nothing could
be made out, and they had to wash him also. He seemed to grow leaner
beneath the sponge, the flesh so pallid and transparent that one could
see the bones. It was a pity to look on this last degeneration of a
wretched race, this mere nothing that was suffering and half crushed by
the falling of the rocks. When he was clean they perceived the bruises
on the thighs, two red patches on the white skin.

Jeanlin, awaking from his faint, moaned. Standing up at the foot of the
mattress with hands hanging down, Maheu was looking at him and large
tears rolled from his eyes.

"Eh, are you the father?" said the doctor, raising his eyes; "no need
to cry then, you can see he is not dead. Help me instead."

He found two simple fractures. But the right leg gave him some anxiety,
it would probably have to be cut off.

At this moment the engineer, Négrel, and Dansaert, who had been
informed, came up with Richomme. The first listened to the captain's
narrative with an exasperated air. He broke out: Always this cursed
timbering! Had he not repeated a hundred times that they would leave
their men down there! and those brutes who talked about going out on
strike if they were forced to timber more solidly. The worst was that
now the Company would have to pay for the broken pots. M. Hennebeau
would be pleased!

"Who is it?" he asked of Dansaert, who was standing in silence before
the corpse which was being wrapped up in a sheet.

"Chicot! one of our good workers," replied the chief captain. "He has
three children. Poor chap!"

Dr. Vanderhaghen ordered Jeanlin's immediate removal to his parents'.
Six o'clock struck, twilight was already coming on, and they would do
well to remove the corpse also; the engineer gave orders to harness
the van and to bring a stretcher. The wounded child was placed on the
stretcher while the mattress and the dead body were put into the van.

Some putters were still standing at the door talking with some miners
who were waiting about to look on. When the door reopened there was
silence in the group. A new procession was then formed, the van in
front, then the stretcher, and then the train of people. They left the
mine square and went slowly up the road to the settlement. The first
November cold had denuded the immense plain; the night was now slowly
burying it like a shroud fallen from the livid sky.

Étienne then in a low voice advised Maheu to send Catherine on to warn
Maheude so as to soften the blow. The overwhelmed father, who was
following the stretcher, agreed with a nod; and the young girl set out
running, for they were now near. But the van, that gloomy well-known
box, was already signalled. Women ran out wildly on to the paths; three
or four rushed about in anguish, without their bonnets. Soon there were
thirty of them, then fifty, all choking with the same terror. Then
someone was dead? Who was it? The story told by Levaque after first
reassuring them, now exaggerated their nightmare: it was not one man,
it was ten who had perished, and who were now being brought back in the
van one by one.

Catherine found her mother agitated by a presentiment; and after
hearing the first stammered words Maheude cried:

"The father's dead!"

The young girl protested in vain, speaking of Jeanlin. Without hearing
her, Maheude had rushed forward. And on seeing the van, which was
passing before the church, she grew faint and pale. The women at their
doors, mute with terror, were stretching out their necks, while others
followed, trembling as they wondered before whose house the procession
would stop.

The vehicle passed; and behind it Maheude saw Maheu, who was
accompanying the stretcher. Then, when they had placed the stretcher
at her door and when she saw Jeanlin alive with his legs broken, there
was so sudden a reaction in her that she choked with anger, stammering,
without tears:

"Is this it? They cripple our little ones now! Both legs! My God! What
do they want me to do with him?"

"Be still, then," said Dr. Vanderhaghen, who had followed to attend to
Jeanlin. "Would you rather he had remained below?"

But Maheude grew more furious, while Alzire, Lénore, and Henri were
crying around her. As she helped to carry up the wounded boy and to
give the doctor what he needed, she cursed fate, and asked where she
was to find money to feed invalids. The old man was not then enough,
now this rascal too had lost his legs! And she never ceased; while
other cries, more heart-breaking lamentations, were heard from a
neighbouring house: Chicot's wife and children were weeping over the
body. It was now quite night, the exhausted miners were at last eating
their soup, and the settlement had fallen into a melancholy silence,
only disturbed by these loud outcries.

Three weeks passed. It was found possible to avoid amputation; Jeanlin
kept both his legs, but he remained lame. On investigation the Company
had resigned itself to giving a donation of fifty francs. It had also
promised to find employment for the little cripple at the surface as
soon as he was well. All the same their misery was aggravated, for the
father had received such a shock that he was seriously ill with fever.

Since Thursday Maheu had been back at the pit and it was now Sunday.
In the evening Étienne talked of the approaching date of the 1st
of December, preoccupied in wondering if the Company would execute
its threat. They sat up till ten o'clock waiting for Catherine, who
must have been delaying with Chaval. But she did not return. Maheude
furiously bolted the door without a word. Étienne was long in going
to sleep, restless at the thought of that empty bed in which Alzire
occupied so little room.

Next morning she was still absent; and it was only in the afternoon, on
returning from the pit, that the Maheus learnt that Chaval was keeping
Catherine. He created such abominable scenes with her that she had
decided to stay with him. To avoid reproaches he had suddenly left the
Voreux and had been taken on at Jean-Bart, M. Deneulin's mine, and she
had followed him as a putter. The new household still lived at Montsou,
at Piquette's.

Maheu at first talked of going to fight the man and of bringing his
daughter back with a kick in the backside. Then he made a gesture of
resignation: what was the good? It always turned out like that; one
could not prevent a girl from sticking to a man when she wanted to. It
was much better to wait quietly for the marriage. But Maheude did not
take things so easily.

"Did I beat her when she took this Chaval?" she cried to Étienne, who
listened in silence, very pale. "See now, tell me! you, who are a
sensible man. We have left her free, haven't we? because, my God! they
all come to it. Now, I was in the family way when the father married
me. But I didn't run away from my parents, and I should never have done
so dirty a trick as to carry the money I earned to a man who had no
want of it before the proper age. Ah! it's disgusting, you know. People
will leave off getting children!"

And as Étienne still replied only by nodding his head, she insisted:

"A girl who went out every evening where she wanted to! What has she
got in her skin, then, not to be able to wait till I married her after
she had helped to get us out of difficulties? Eh? it's natural, one
has a daughter to work. But there! we have been too good, we ought not
to let her go and amuse herself with a man. Give them an inch and they
take an ell."

Alzire nodded approvingly. Lénore and Henri, overcome by this storm,
cried quietly, while the mother now enumerated their misfortunes: first
Zacharie who had had to get married; then old Bonnemort who was there
on his chair with his twisted feet; then Jeanlin who could not leave
the room for ten days with his badly-united bones; and now, as a last
blow, this jade Catherine, who had gone away with a man! The whole
family was breaking up. There was only the father left at the pit. How
were they to live, seven persons without counting Estelle, on his three
francs? They might as well jump into the canal in a band.

"It won't do any good to worry yourself," said Maheu in a low voice,
"perhaps we have not got to the end."

Étienne, who was looking fixedly at the flags on the floor, raised his
head, and murmured with eyes lost in a vision of the future:

"Ah! it is time! it is time!"



PART FOUR



CHAPTER I


On that Monday the Hennebeaus had invited the Grégoires and their
daughter Cécile to lunch. They had formed their plans: on rising from
table, Paul Négrel was to take the ladies to a mine, Saint-Thomas,
which had been luxuriously reinstalled. But this was only an amiable
pretext; this party was an invention of Madame Hennebeau's to hasten
the marriage of Cécile and Paul.

Suddenly, on this very Monday, at four o'clock in the morning, the
strike broke out. When, on the 1st of December, the Company had
adopted the new wage system, the miners remained calm. At the end of
the fortnight not one made the least protest on pay-day. Everybody,
from the manager down to the last overseer, considered the tariff
as accepted; and great was their surprise in the morning at this
declaration of war, made with a tactical unity which seemed to indicate
energetic leadership.

At five o'clock Dansaert woke M. Hennebeau to inform him that not
a single man had gone down at the Voreux. The settlement of the
Deux-Cent-Quarante, which he had passed through, was sleeping deeply,
with closed windows and doors. And as soon as the manager had jumped
out of bed, his eyes still swollen with sleep, he was overwhelmed.
Every quarter of an hour messengers came in, and dispatches fell on his
desk as thick as hail. At first he hoped that the revolt was limited
to the Voreux; but the news became more serious every minute. There
was the Mirou, the Crévecoeur, the Madeleine, where only the grooms
had appeared; the Victoire and Feutry-Cantel, the two best disciplined
pits, where the men had been reduced by a third; Saint-Thomas alone
numbered all its people, and seemed to be outside the movement. Up to
nine o'clock he dictated dispatches, telegraphing in all directions,
to the prefect of Lille, to the directors of the Company, warning the
authorities and asking for orders. He had sent Négrel to go round the
neighbouring pits to obtain precise information.

Suddenly M. Hennebeau recollected the lunch; and he was about to send
the coachman to tell the Grégoires that the party had been put off,
when a certain hesitation and lack of will stopped him--the man who in
a few brief phrases had just made military preparations for a field of
battle. He went up to Madame Hennebeau, whose hair had just been done
by her lady's maid, in her dressing-room.

"Ah! they are on strike," she said quietly, when he had told her.
"Well, what has that to do with us? We are not going to leave off
eating, I suppose?"

And she was obstinate; it was vain to tell her that the lunch would be
disturbed, and that the visit to Saint-Thomas could not take place.
She found an answer to everything. Why lose a lunch that was already
cooking? And as to visiting the pit, they could give that up afterwards
if the walk was really imprudent.

"Besides," she added, when the maid had gone out, "you know that I am
anxious to receive these good people. This marriage ought to affect you
more than the follies of your men. I want to have it, don't contradict
me."

He looked at her, agitated by a slight trembling, and the hard firm
face of the man of discipline expressed the secret grief of a wounded
heart. She had remained with naked shoulders, already over-mature, but
still imposing and desirable, with the broad bust of a Ceres gilded by
the autumn. For a moment he felt a brutal desire to seize her, and to
roll his head between the breasts she was exposing in this warm room,
which exhibited the private luxury of a sensual woman and had about it
an irritating perfume of musk, but he recoiled; for ten years they had
occupied separate rooms.

"Good!" he said, leaving her. "Do not make any alterations."

M. Hennebeau had been born in the Ardennes. In his early life he had
undergone the hardships of a poor boy thrown as an orphan on the Paris
streets. After having painfully followed the courses of the École
des Mines, at the age of twenty-four he had gone to the Grand' Combe
as engineer to the Sainte-Barbe mine. Three years later he became
divisional engineer in the Pas-de-Calais, at the Marles mines. It was
there that he married, wedding, by one of those strokes of fortune
which are the rule among the Corps des Mines, the daughter of the rich
owner of a spinning factory at Arras. For fifteen years they lived in
the same small provincial town, and no event broke the monotony of
existence, not even the birth of a child. An increasing irritation
detached Madame Hennebeau, who had been brought up to respect money,
and was disdainful of this husband who gained a small salary with such
difficulty, and who enabled her to gratify none of the satisfactions
of vanity which she had dreamed of at school. He was a man of strict
honesty, who never speculated, but stood at his post like a soldier.
The lack of harmony had only increased, aggravated by one of those
curious misunderstandings of the flesh which freeze the most ardent;
he adored his wife, she had the sensuality of a greedy blonde, and
already they slept apart, ill at ease and wounded. From that time she
had a lover of whom he was ignorant. At last he left the Pas-de-Calais
to occupy a situation in an office at Paris, with the idea that she
would be grateful to him. But Paris only completed their separation,
that Paris which she had desired since her first doll, and where she
washed away her provincialism in a week, becoming a woman of fashion
at once, and throwing herself into all the luxurious follies of the
period. The ten years which she spent there were filled by a great
passion, a public intrigue with a man whose desertion nearly killed
her. This time the husband had not been able to keep his ignorance, and
after some abominable scenes he resigned himself, disarmed by the quiet
unconsciousness of this woman who took her happiness where she found
it. It was after the rupture, and when he saw that she was ill with
grief, that he had accepted the management of the Montsou mines, still
hoping also that she would reform down there in that desolate black
country.

The Hennebeaus, since they had lived at Montsou, returned to the
irritated boredom of their early married days. At first she seemed
consoled by the great quiet, soothed by the flat monotony of the
immense plain; she buried herself in it as a woman who has done with
the world; she affected a dead heart, so detached from life that she
did not even mind growing stout. Then, beneath this indifference a
final fever declared itself, the need to live once more, and she
deluded herself for six months by organizing and furnishing to her
taste the little villa belonging to the management. She said it was
frightful, and filled it with upholstery, bric-a-brac, and all sorts of
artistic luxuries which were talked of as far as Lille. Now the country
exasperated her, those stupid fields spread out to infinity, those
eternal black roads without a tree, swarming with a horrid population
which disgusted and frightened her. Complaints of exile began; she
accused her husband of having sacrificed her to a salary of forty
thousand francs, a trifle which hardly sufficed to keep the house up.
Why could he not imitate others, demand a part for himself, obtain
shares, succeed in something at last? And she insisted with the cruelty
of an heiress who had brought her own fortune. He, always restrained,
and taking refuge in the deceptive coldness of a man of business, was
torn by desire for this creature, one of those late desires which are
so violent and which increase with age. He had never possessed her as a
lover; he was haunted by a continual image, to have her once to himself
as she had given herself to another. Every morning he dreamed of
winning her in the evening; then, when she looked at him with her cold
eyes, and when he felt that everything within her denied itself to him,
he even avoided touching her hand. It was a suffering without possible
cure, hidden beneath the stiffness of his attitude, the suffering of a
tender nature in secret anguish at the lack of domestic happiness. At
the end of six months, when the house, being definitely furnished, no
longer occupied Madame Hennebeau, she fell into the languor of boredom,
a victim who was being killed by exile, and who said that she was glad
to die of it.

Just then Paul Négrel arrived at Montsou. His mother, the widow of
a Provence captain, living at Avignon on a slender income, had had
to content herself with bread and water to enable him to reach the
École Polytechnique. He had come out low in rank, and his uncle, M.
Hennebeau, had enabled him to leave by offering to take him as engineer
at the Voreux. From that time he was treated as one of the family; he
even had his room there, his meals there, lived there, and was thus
enabled to send to his mother half his salary of three thousand francs.
To disguise this kindness M. Hennebeau spoke of the embarrassment to
a young man of setting up a household in one of those little villas
reserved for the mine engineers. Madame Hennebeau had at once taken the
part of a good aunt, treating her nephew with familiarity and watching
over his comfort. During the first months, especially, she exhibited
an overwhelming maternity with her advice regarding the smallest
subjects. But she remained a woman, however, and slid into personal
confidences. This lad, so young and so practical, with his unscrupulous
intelligence, professing a philosopher's theory of love, amused her
with the vivacity of the pessimism which had sharpened his thin face
and pointed nose. One evening he naturally found himself in her arms,
and she seemed to give herself up out of kindness, while saying to
him that she had no heart left, and wished only to be his friend. In
fact, she was not jealous; she joked him about the putters, whom he
declared to be abominable, and she almost sulked because he had no
young man's pranks to narrate to her. Then she was carried away by the
idea of getting him married; she dreamed of sacrificing herself and of
finding a rich girl for him. Their relations continued a plaything, a
recreation, in which she felt the last tenderness of a lazy woman who
had done with the world.

Two years had passed by. One night M. Hennebeau had a suspicion when
he heard naked feet passing his door. But this new adventure revolted
him, in his own house, between this mother and this son! And besides,
on the following day his wife spoke to him about the choice of Cécile
Grégoire which she had made for her nephew. She occupied herself over
this marriage with such ardour that he blushed at his own monstrous
imagination. He only felt gratitude towards the young man who, since
his arrival, had made the house less melancholy.

As he came down from the dressing-room, M. Hennebeau found that Paul,
who had just returned, was in the vestibule. He seemed to be quite
amused by the story of this strike.

"Well?" asked his uncle.

"Well, I've been round the settlements. They seem to be quite sensible
in there. I think they will first send you a deputation."

But at that moment Madame Hennebeau's voice called from the first story:

"Is that you, Paul? Come up, then, and tell me the news. How queer they
are to make such a fuss, these people who are so happy!"

And the manager had to renounce further information, since his wife had
taken his messenger. He returned and sat before his desk, on which a
new packet of dispatches was placed.

At eleven o'clock the Grégoires arrived, and were astonished when
Hippolyte, the footman, who was placed as sentinel, hustled them in
after an anxious glance at the two ends of the road. The drawing-room
curtains were drawn, and they were taken at once into the study, where
M. Hennebeau apologized for their reception; but the drawing-room
looked over the street and it was undesirable to seem to offer
provocations.

"What! you don't know?" he went on, seeing their surprise.

M. Grégoire, when he heard that the strike had at last broken out,
shrugged his shoulders in his placid way. Bah! it would be nothing,
the people were honest. With a movement of her chin, Madame Grégoire
approved his confidence in the everlasting resignation of the colliers;
while Cécile, who was very cheerful that day, feeling that she looked
well in her capuchin cloth costume, smiled at the word "strike," which
reminded her of visits to the settlements and the distribution of
charities.

Madame Hennebeau now appeared in black silk, followed by Négrel.

"Ah! isn't it annoying!" she said, at the door. "As if they couldn't
wait, those men! You know that Paul refuses to take us to Saint-Thomas."

"We can stay here," said M. Grégoire, obligingly. "We shall be quite
pleased."

Paul had contented himself with formally saluting Cécile and her
mother. Angry at this lack of demonstrativeness, his aunt sent him with
a look to the young girl; and when she heard them laughing together she
enveloped them in a maternal glance.

M. Hennebeau, however, finished reading his dispatches and prepared a
few replies. They talked near him; his wife explained that she had not
done anything to this study, which, in fact, retained its faded old red
paper, its heavy mahogany furniture, its cardboard files, scratched
by use. Three-quarters of an hour passed and they were about to seat
themselves at table when the footman announced M. Deneulin. He entered
in an excited way and bowed to Madame Hennebeau.

"Ah! you here!" he said, seeing the Grégoires.

And he quickly spoke to the manager:

"It has come, then? I've just heard of it through my engineer. With me,
all the men went down this morning. But the thing may spread. I'm not
at all at ease. How is it with you?"

He had arrived on horseback, and his anxiety betrayed itself in his
loud speech and abrupt gestures, which made him resemble a retired
cavalry officer.

M. Hennebeau was beginning to inform him regarding the precise
situation, when Hippolyte opened the dining-room door. Then he
interrupted himself to say:

"Lunch with us. I will tell you more at dessert."

"Yes, as you please," replied Deneulin, so full of his thoughts that he
accepted without ceremony.

He was, however, conscious of his impoliteness and turned towards
Madame Hennebeau with apologies. She was very charming, however. When
she had had a seventh plate laid she placed her guests: Madame Grégoire
and Cécile by her husband, then M. Grégoire and Deneulin at her own
right and left; then Paul, whom she put between the young girl and her
father. As they attacked the _hors-d'oeuvre_ she said, with a
smile:

"You must excuse me; I wanted to give you oysters. On Monday, you know,
there was an arrival of Ostend oysters at Marchiennes, and I meant to
send the cook with the carriage. But she was afraid of being stoned--"

They all interrupted her with a great burst of gaiety. They thought the
story very funny.

"Hush!" said M. Hennebeau, vexed, looking at the window, through which
the road could be seen. "We need not tell the whole country that we
have company this morning."

"Well, here is a slice of sausage which they shan't have," M. Grégoire
declared.

The laughter began again, but with greater restraint. Each guest made
himself comfortable, in this room upholstered with Flemish tapestry
and furnished with old oak chests. The silver shone behind the panes
of the sideboards; and there was a large hanging lamp of red copper,
whose polished surfaces reflected a palm and an aspidistra growing
in majolica pots. Outside, the December day was frozen by a keen
north-east wind. But not a breath of it entered; a green-house warmth
developed the delicate odour of the pineapple, sliced in a crystal bowl.

"Suppose we were to draw the curtains," proposed Négrel, who was amused
at the idea of frightening the Grégoires.

The housemaid, who was helping the footman, treated this as an order
and went and closed one of the curtains. This led to interminable
jokes: not a glass or a plate could be put down without precaution;
every dish was hailed as a waif escaped from the pillage in a conquered
town; and behind this forced gaiety there was a certain fear which
betrayed itself in involuntary glances towards the road, as though a
band of starvelings were watching the table from outside.

After the scrambled eggs with truffles, trout came on. The conversation
then turned to the industrial crisis, which had become aggravated
during the last eighteen months.

"It was inevitable," said Deneulin, "the excessive prosperity of recent
years was bound to bring us to it. Think of the enormous capital which
has been sunk, the railways, harbours, and canals, all the money buried
in the maddest speculations. Among us alone sugar works have been set
up as if the department could furnish three beetroot harvests. Good
heavens! and to-day money is scarce, and we have to wait to catch up
the interest of the expended millions; so there is a mortal congestion
and a final stagnation of business."

M. Hennebeau disputed this theory, but he agreed that the fortunate
years had spoilt the men.

"When I think," he exclaimed, "that these chaps in our pits used to
gain six francs a day, double what they gain now! And they lived well,
too, and acquired luxurious tastes. To-day, naturally, it seems hard to
them to go back to their old frugality."

"Monsieur Grégoire," interrupted Madame Hennebeau, "let me persuade
you, a little more trout. They are delicious, are they not?"

The manager went on:

"But, as a matter of fact, is it our fault? We, too, are cruelly
struck. Since the factories have closed, one by one, we have had a
deuce of a difficulty in getting rid of our stock; and in face of
the growing reduction in demand we have been forced to lower our net
prices. It is just this that the men won't understand."

There was silence. The footman presented roast partridge, while the
housemaid began to pour out Chambertin for the guests.

"There has been a famine in India," said Deneulin in a low voice, as
though he were speaking to himself. "America, by ceasing to order iron,
has struck a heavy blow at our furnaces. Everything holds together; a
distant shock is enough to disturb the world. And the empire, which was
so proud of this hot fever of industry!"

He attacked his partridge wing. Then, raising his voice:

"The worst is that to lower the net prices we ought logically to
produce more; otherwise the reduction bears on wages, and the worker is
right in saying that he has to pay the damage."

This confession, the outcome of his frankness, raised a discussion.
The ladies were not at all interested. Besides, all were occupied with
their plates, in the first zest of appetite. When the footman came
back, he seemed about to speak, then he hesitated.

"What is it?" asked M. Hennebeau. "If there are letters, give them to
me. I am expecting replies."

"No, sir. It is Monsieur Dansaert, who is in the hall. But he doesn't
wish to disturb you."

The manager excused himself, and had the head captain brought in. The
latter stood upright, a few paces from the table, while all turned
to look at him, huge, out of breath with the news he was bringing.
The settlements were quiet; only it had now been decided to send a
deputation. It would, perhaps, be there in a few minutes.

"Very well; thank you," said M. Hennebeau. "I want a report morning and
evening, you understand."

And as soon as Dansaert had gone, they began to joke again, and
hastened to attack the Russian salad, declaring that not a moment was
to be lost if they wished to finish it. The mirth was unbounded when
Négrel, having asked the housemaid for bread, she replied, "Yes, sir,"
in a voice as low and terrified as if she had behind her a troop ready
for murder and rape.

"You may speak," said Madame Hennebeau complacently. "They are not here
yet."

The manager, who now received a packet of letters and dispatches,
wished to read one of his letters aloud. It was from Pierron, who,
in respectful phrases, gave notice that he was obliged to go out on
strike with his comrades, in order to avoid ill-treatment; and he added
that he had not even been able to avoid taking part in the deputation,
although he blamed that step.

"So much for liberty of work!" exclaimed M. Hennebeau.

Then they returned to the strike, and asked him his opinion.

"Oh!" he replied, "we have had them before. It will be a week, or, at
most, a fortnight, of idleness, as it was last time. They will go and
wallow in the public-houses, and then, when they are hungry, they will
go back to the pits."

Deneulin shook his head:

"I'm not so satisfied; this time they appear to be better organized.
Have they not a Provident Fund?"

"Yes, scarcely three thousand francs. What do you think they can do
with that? I suspect a man called Étienne Lantier of being their
leader. He is a good workman; it would vex me to have to give him his
certificate back, as we did of old to the famous Rasseneur, who still
poisons the Voreux with his ideas and his beer. No matter, in a week
half the men will have gone down, and in a fortnight the ten thousand
will be below."

He was convinced. His only anxiety was concerning his own possible
disgrace should the directors put the responsibility of the strike on
him. For some time he had felt that he was diminishing in favour. So
leaving the spoonful of Russian salad which he had taken, he read over
again the dispatches received from Paris, endeavouring to penetrate
every word. His guests excused him; the meal was becoming a military
lunch, eaten on the field of battle before the first shots were fired.

The ladies then joined in the conversation. Madame Grégoire expressed
pity for the poor people who would suffer from hunger; and Cécile was
already making plans for distributing gifts of bread and meat. But
Madame Hennebeau was astonished at hearing of the wretchedness of
the Montsou colliers. Were they not very fortunate? People who were
lodged and warmed and cared for at the expense of the Company! In her
indifference for the herd, she only knew the lessons she had learnt,
and with which she had surprised the Parisians who came on a visit.
She believed them at last, and was indignant at the ingratitude of the
people.

Négrel, meanwhile, continued to frighten M. Grégoire. Cécile did not
displease him, and he was quite willing to marry her to be agreeable to
his aunt, but he showed no amorous fever; like a youth of experience,
who, he said, was not easily carried away now. He professed to be
a Republican, which did not prevent him from treating his men with
extreme severity, or from making fun of them in the company of the
ladies.

"Nor have I my uncle's optimism, either," he continued. "I fear
there will be serious disturbances. So I should advise you, Monsieur
Grégoire, to lock up Piolaine. They may pillage you."

Just then, still retaining the smile which illuminated his good-natured
face, M. Grégoire was going beyond his wife in paternal sentiments with
regard to the miners.

"Pillage me!" he cried, stupefied. "And why pillage me?"

"Are you not a shareholder in Montsou! You do nothing; you live on the
work of others. In fact you are an infamous capitalist, and that is
enough. You may be sure that if the revolution triumphs, it will force
you to restore your fortune as stolen money."

At once he lost his child-like tranquillity, his serene
unconsciousness. He stammered:

"Stolen money, my fortune! Did not my great-grandfather gain, and
hardly, too, the sum originally invested? Have we not run all the risks
of the enterprise, and do I today make a bad use of my income?"

Madame Hennebeau, alarmed at seeing the mother and daughter also white
with fear, hastened to intervene, saying:

"Paul is joking, my dear sir."

But M. Grégoire was carried out of himself. As the servant was passing
round the crayfish he took three of them without knowing what he was
doing and began to break their claws with his teeth.

"Ah! I don't say but what there are shareholders who abuse their
position. For instance, I have been told that ministers have received
shares in Montsou for services rendered to the Company. It is like a
nobleman whom I will not name, a duke, the biggest of our shareholders,
whose life is a scandal of prodigality, millions thrown into the street
on women, feasting, and useless luxury. But we who live quietly, like
good citizens as we are, who do not speculate, who are content to live
wholesomely on what we have, giving a part to the poor: Come, now! your
men must be mere brigands if they came and stole a pin from us!"

Négrel himself had to calm him, though amused at his anger. The
crayfish were still going round; the little crackling sound of their
carapaces could be heard, while the conversation turned to politics,
M. Grégoire, in spite of everything and though still trembling, called
himself a Liberal and regretted Louis Philippe. As for Deneulin, he was
for a strong Government; he declared that the Emperor was gliding down
the slope of dangerous concessions.

"Remember '89," he said. "It was the nobility who made the Revolution
possible, by their complicity and taste for philosophic novelties. Very
well! the middle class to-day are playing the same silly game with
their furious Liberalism, their rage for destruction, their flattery of
the people. Yes, yes, you are sharpening the teeth of the monster that
will devour us. It will devour us, rest assured!"

The ladies bade him be silent, and tried to change the conversation by
asking him news of his daughters. Lucie was at Marchiennes, where she
was singing with a friend; Jeanne was painting an old beggar's head.
But he said these things in a distracted way; he constantly looked at
the manager, who was absorbed in the reading of his dispatches and
forgetful of his guests. Behind those thin leaves he felt Paris and the
directors' orders, which would decide the strike. At last he could not
help yielding to his preoccupation.

"Well, what are you going to do?" he asked suddenly.

M. Hennebeau started; then turned off the question with a vague phrase.

"We shall see."

"No doubt you are solidly placed, you can wait," Deneulin began to
think aloud. "But as for me, I shall be done for if the strike reaches
Vandame. I shall have reinstalled Jean-Bart in vain; with a single pit,
I can only get along by constant production. Ah! I am not in a very
pleasant situation, I can assure you!"

This involuntary confession seemed to strike M. Hennebeau. He listened
and a plan formed within him: in case the strike turned out badly,
why not utilize it by letting things run down until his neighbour was
ruined, and then buy up his concession at a low price? That would be
the surest way of regaining the good graces of the directors, who for
years had dreamed of possessing Vandame.

"If Jean-Bart bothers you as much as that," said he, laughing, "why
don't you give it up to us?"

But Deneulin was already regretting his complaints. He exclaimed:

"Never, never!"

They were amused at his vigour and had already forgotten the strike
by the time the dessert appeared. An apple-charlotte meringue was
overwhelmed with praise. Afterwards the ladies discussed a recipe with
respect to the pineapple which was declared equally exquisite. The
grapes and pears completed their happy abandonment at the end of this
copious lunch. All talked excitedly at the same time, while the servant
poured out Rhine wine in place of champagne which was looked upon as
commonplace.

And the marriage of Paul and Cécile certainly made a forward step in
the sympathy produced by the dessert. His aunt had thrown such urgent
looks in his direction, that the young man showed himself very amiable,
and in his wheedling way reconquered the Grégoires, who had been cast
down by his stories of pillage. For a moment M. Hennebeau, seeing
the close understanding between his wife and his nephew, felt that
abominable suspicion again revive, as if in this exchange of looks he
had surprised a physical contact. But again the idea of the marriage,
made here before his face, reassured him.

Hippolyte was serving the coffee when the housemaid entered in a fright.

"Sir, sir, they are here!"

It was the delegates. Doors banged; a breath of terror was passing
through the neighbouring rooms.

Around the table the guests were looking at one another with uneasy
indecision. There was silence. Then they tried to resume their jokes:
they pretended to put the rest of the sugar in their pockets, and
talked of hiding the plate. But the manager remained grave; and the
laughter fell and their voices sank to a whisper, while the heavy feet
of the delegates who were being shown in tramped over the carpet of the
next room.

Madame Hennebeau said to her husband, lowering her voice:

"I hope you will drink your coffee."

"Certainly," he replied. "Let them wait."

He was nervous, listening to every sound, though apparently occupied
with his cup.

Paul and Cécile got up, and he made her venture an eye to the keyhole.
They were stifling their laughter and talking in a low voice.

"Do you see them?"

"Yes, I see a big man and two small ones behind."

"Haven't they ugly faces?"

"Not at all; they are very nice."

Suddenly M. Hennebeau left his chair, saying the coffee was too hot and
he would drink it afterwards. As he went out he put a finger to his
lips to recommend prudence. They all sat down again and remained at
table in silence, no longer daring to move, listening from afar with
intent ears jarred by these coarse male voices.



CHAPTER II


The previous day, at a meeting held at Rasseneur's, Étienne and some
comrades had chosen the delegates who were to proceed on the following
day to the manager's house. When, in the evening, Maheude learnt that
her man was one of them, she was in despair, and asked him if he
wanted them to be thrown on the street. Maheu himself had agreed with
reluctance. Both of them, when the moment of action came, in spite of
the injustice of their wretchedness fell back on the resignation of
their race, trembling before the morrow, preferring still to bend their
backs to the yoke. In the management of affairs he usually gave way to
his wife, whose advice was sound. This time, however, he grew angry at
last, all the more so since he secretly shared her fears.

"Just leave me alone, will you?" he said, going to bed and turning his
back. "A fine thing to leave the mates now! I'm doing my duty."

She went to bed in her turn. Neither of them spoke. Then, after a long
silence, she replied:

"You're right; go. Only, poor old man, we are done for."

Midday struck while they were at lunch, for the rendezvous was at
one o'clock at the Avantage, from which they were to go together to
M. Hennebeau's. They were eating potatoes. As there was only a small
morsel of butter left, no one touched it. They would have bread and
butter in the evening.

"You know that we reckon on you to speak," said Étienne suddenly to
Maheu.

The latter was so overcome that he was silent from emotion.

"No, no! that's too much," cried Maheude. "I'm quite willing he should
go there, but I don't allow him to go at the head. Why him, more than
any one else?"

Then Étienne, with his fiery eloquence, began to explain. Maheu was
the best worker in the pit, the most liked, and the most respected;
whose good sense was always spoken of. In his mouth the miners' claims
would carry decisive weight. At first Étienne had arranged to speak,
but he had been at Montsou for too short a time. One who belonged to
the country would be better listened to. In fact, the comrades were
confiding their interests to the most worthy; he could not refuse, it
would be cowardly.

Maheude made a gesture of despair.

"Go, go, my man; go and be killed for the others. I'm willing, after
all!"

"But I could never do it," stammered Maheu. "I should say something
stupid."

Étienne, glad to have persuaded him, struck him on the shoulder.

"Say what you feel, and you won't go wrong."

Father Bonnemort, whose legs were now less swollen, was listening with
his mouth full, shaking his head. There was silence. When potatoes were
being eaten, the children were subdued and behaved well. Then, having
swallowed his mouthful, the old man muttered slowly:

"You can say what you like, and it will be all the same as if you said
nothing. Ah! I've seen these affairs, I've seen them! Forty years ago
they drove us out of the manager's house, and with sabres too! Now they
may receive you, perhaps, but they won't answer you any more than that
wall. Lord! they have money, why should they care?"

There was silence again; Maheu and Étienne rose, and left the family
in gloom before the empty plates. On going out they called for Pierron
and Levaque, and then all four went to Rasseneur's, where the delegates
from the neighbouring settlements were arriving in little groups.
When the twenty members of the deputation had assembled there, they
settled on the terms to be opposed to the Company's, and then set out
for Montsou. The keen north-east wind was sweeping the street. As they
arrived, it struck two.

At first the servant told them to wait, and shut the door on them;
then, when he came back, he introduced them into the drawing-room, and
opened the curtains. A soft daylight entered, sifted through the lace.
And the miners, when left alone, in their embarrassment did not dare
to sit; all of them very clean, dressed in cloth, shaven that morning,
with their yellow hair and moustaches. They twisted their caps between
their fingers, and looked sideways at the furniture, which was in every
variety of style, as a result of the taste for the old-fashioned: Henry
II easy-chairs, Louis XV chairs, an Italian cabinet of the seventeenth
century, a Spanish contador of the fifteenth century, with an
altar-front serving as a chimney-piece, and ancient chasuble trimming
reapplied to the curtains. This old gold and these old silks, with
their tawny tones, all this luxurious church furniture, had overwhelmed
them with respectful discomfort. The eastern carpets with their long
wool seemed to bind their feet. But what especially suffocated them was
the heat, heat like that of a hot-air stove, which surprised them as
they felt it with cheeks frozen from the wind of the road. Five minutes
passed by and their awkwardness increased in the comfort of this rich
room, so pleasantly warm. At last M. Hennebeau entered, buttoned up in
a military manner and wearing on his frock-coat the correct little bow
of his decoration. He spoke first.

"Ah! here you are! You are in rebellion, it seems."

He interrupted himself to add with polite stiffness:

"Sit down, I desire nothing better than to talk things over."

The miners turned round looking for seats. A few of them ventured
to place themselves on chairs, while the others, disturbed by the
embroidered silks, preferred to remain standing.

There was a period of silence. M. Hennebeau, who had drawn his
easy-chair up to the fireplace, was rapidly looking them over and
endeavouring to recall their faces. He had recognized Pierron, who was
hidden in the last row, and his eyes rested on Étienne who was seated
in front of him.

"Well," he asked, "what have you to say to me?"

He had expected to hear the young man speak and he was so surprised to
see Maheu come forward that he could not avoid adding:

"What! you, a good workman who have always been so sensible, one of the
old Montsou people whose family has worked in the mine since the first
stroke of the axe! Ah! it's a pity, I'm sorry that you are at the head
of the discontented."

Maheu listened with his eyes down. Then he began, at first in a low and
hesitating voice.

"It is just because I am a quiet man, sir, whom no one has anything
against, that my mates have chosen me. That ought to show you that it
isn't just a rebellion of blusterers, badly-disposed men who want to
create disorder. We only want justice, we are tired of starving, and it
seems to us that the time has come when things ought to be arranged so
that we can at least have bread every day."

His voice grew stronger. He lifted his eyes and went on, while looking
at the manager.

"You know quite well that we cannot agree to your new system. They
accuse us of bad timbering. It's true we don't give the necessary time
to the work. But if we gave it, our day's work would be still smaller,
and as it doesn't give us enough food at present, that would mean the
end of everything, the sweep of the clout that would wipe off all your
men. Pay us more and we will timber better, we will give the necessary
hours to the timbering instead of putting all our strength into the
picking, which is the only work that pays. There's no other arrangement
possible; if the work is to be done it must be paid for. And what have
you invented instead? A thing which we can't get into our heads, don't
you see? You lower the price of the tram and then you pretend to make
up for it by paying for all timbering separately. If that was true
we should be robbed all the same, for the timbering would still take
us more time. But what makes us mad is that it isn't even true; the
Company compensates for nothing at all, it simply puts two centimes a
tram into its pocket, that's all."

"Yes, yes, that's it," murmured the other deputies, noticing M.
Hennebeau make a violent movement as if to interrupt.

But Maheu cut the manager short. Now that he had set out his words
came by themselves. At times he listened to himself with surprise as
though a stranger were speaking within him. It was the things amassed
within his breast, things he did not even know were there, and which
came out in an expansion of his heart. He described the wretchedness
that was common to all of them, the hard toil, the brutal life, the
wife and little ones crying from hunger in the house. He quoted the
recent disastrous payments, the absurd fortnightly wages, eaten up by
fines and rest days and brought back to their families in tears. Was it
resolved to destroy them?

"Then, sir," he concluded, "we have come to tell you that if we've got
to starve we would rather starve doing nothing. It will be a little
less trouble. We have left the pits and we don't go down again unless
the Company agrees to our terms. The Company wants to lower the price
of the tram and to pay for the timbering separately. We ask for things
to be left as they were, and we also ask for five centimes more the
tram. Now it is for you to see if you are on the side of justice and
work."

Voices rose among the miners.

"That's it--he has said what we all feel--we only ask what's reason."

Others, without speaking, showed their approval by nodding their heads.
The luxurious room had disappeared, with its gold and its embroideries,
its mysterious piling up of ancient things; and they no longer even
felt the carpet which they crushed beneath their heavy boots.

"Let me reply, then," at last exclaimed M. Hennebeau, who was growing
angry. "First of all, it is not true that the Company gains two
centimes the tram. Let us look at the figures."

A confused discussion followed. The manager, trying to divide them,
appealed to Pierron, who hid himself, stammering. Levaque, on the
contrary, was at the head of the more aggressive, muddling up things
and affirming facts of which he was ignorant. The loud murmurs of their
voices were stifled beneath the hangings in the hot-house atmosphere.

"If you all talk at the same time," said M. Hennebeau, "we shall never
come to an understanding."

He had regained his calmness, the rough politeness, without bitterness,
of an agent who has received his instructions, and means that they
shall be respected. From the first word he never took his eye off
Étienne, and manoeuvred to draw the young man out of his obstinate
silence. Leaving the discussion about the two centimes, he suddenly
enlarged the question.

"No, acknowledge the truth: you are yielding to abominable incitations.
It is a plague which is now blowing over the workers everywhere, and
corrupting the best. Oh! I have no need for any one to confess. I can
see well that you have been changed, you who used to be so quiet. Is
it not so? You have been promised more butter than bread, and you have
been told that now your turn has come to be masters. In fact, you have
been enrolled in that famous International, that army of brigands who
dream of destroying society."

Then Étienne interrupted him.

"You are mistaken, sir. Not a single Montsou collier has yet enrolled.
But if they are driven to it, all the pits will enroll themselves. That
depends on the Company."

From that moment the struggle went on between M. Hennebeau and Étienne
as though the other miners were no longer there.

"The Company is a Providence for the men, and you are wrong to threaten
it. This year it has spent three hundred thousand francs in building
settlements which only return two per cent, and I say nothing of the
pensions which it pays, nor of the coals and medicines which it gives.
You who seem to be intelligent, and who have become in a few months
one of our most skilful workmen, would it not be better if you were
to spread these truths, rather than ruin yourself by associating with
people of bad reputation? Yes, I mean Rasseneur, whom we had to turn
off in order to save our pits from socialistic corruption. You are
constantly seen with him, and it is certainly he who has induced you
to form this Provident Fund, which we would willingly tolerate if it
were merely a means of saving, but which we feel to be a weapon turned
against us, a reserve fund to pay the expenses of the war. And in this
connection I ought to add that the Company means to control that fund."

Étienne allowed him to continue, fixing his eyes on him, while a slight
nervous quiver moved his lips. He smiled at the last remark, and simply
replied:

"Then that is a new demand, for until now, sir, you have neglected
to claim that control. Unfortunately, we wish the Company to occupy
itself less with us, and instead of playing the part of Providence
to be merely just with us, giving us our due, the profits which
it appropriates. Is it honest, whenever a crisis comes, to leave
the workers to die with hunger in order to save the shareholders'
dividends? Whatever you may say, sir, the new system is a disguised
reduction of wages, and that is what we are rebelling against, for if
the Company wants to economize it acts very badly by only economizing
on the men."

"Ah! there we are!" cried M. Hennebeau. "I was expecting that--the
accusation of starving the people and living by their sweat. How can
you talk such folly, you who ought to know the enormous risks which
capital runs in industry--in the mines, for example? A well-equipped
pit today costs from fifteen hundred thousand francs to two millions;
and it is difficult enough to get a moderate interest on the vast sum
that is thus swallowed. Nearly half the mining companies in France are
bankrupt. Besides, it is stupid to accuse those who succeed of cruelty.
When their workers suffer, they suffer themselves. Can you believe that
the Company has not as much to lose as you have in the present crisis?
It does not govern wages; it obeys competition under pain of ruin.
Blame the facts, not the Company. But you don't wish to hear, you don't
wish to understand."

"Yes," said the young man, "we understand very well that our lot will
never be bettered as long as things go on as they are going; and that
is the reason why some day or another the workers will end by arranging
that things shall go differently."

This sentence, so moderate in form, was pronounced in a low voice,
but with such conviction, tremulous in its menace, that a deep
silence followed. A certain constraint, a breath of fear passed
through the polite drawing-room. The other delegates, though scarcely
understanding, felt that their comrade had been demanding their share
of this comfort; and they began to cast sidelong looks over the warm
hangings, the comfortable seats, all this luxury of which the least
knick-knack would have bought them soup for a month.

At last M. Hennebeau, who had remained thoughtful, rose as a sign for
them to depart. All imitated him. Étienne had lightly pushed Maheu's
elbow, and the latter, his tongue once more thick and awkward, again
spoke.

"Then, sir, that is all that you reply? We must tell the others that
you reject our terms."

"I, my good fellow!" exclaimed the manager, "I reject nothing. I am
paid just as you are. I have no more power in the matter than the
smallest of your trammers. I receive my orders, and my only duty is
to see that they are executed. I have told you what I thought I ought
to tell you, but it is not for me to decide. You have brought me your
demands. I will make them known to the directors, then I will tell you
their reply."

He spoke with the correct air of a high official avoiding any
passionate interest in the matter, with the courteous dryness of a
simple instrument of authority. And the miners now looked at him with
distrust, asking themselves what interest he might have in lying, and
what he would get by thus putting himself between them and the real
masters. A schemer, perhaps, this man who was paid like a worker, and
who lived so well!

Étienne ventured to intervene again.

"You see, sir, how unfortunate it is that we cannot plead our cause in
person. We could explain many things, and bring forward many reasons of
which you could know nothing, if we only knew where we ought to go."

M. Hennebeau was not at all angry. He even smiled.

"Ah! it gets complicated as soon as you have no confidence in me; you
will have to go over there."

The delegates had followed the vague gesture of his hand toward one
of the windows. Where was it, over there? Paris, no doubt. But they
did not know exactly; it seemed to fall back into a terrible distance,
in an inaccessible religious country, where an unknown god sat on his
throne, crouching down at the far end of his tabernacle. They would
never see him; they only felt him as a force far off, which weighed on
the ten thousand colliers of Montsou. And when the director spoke he
had that hidden force behind him delivering oracles.

They were overwhelmed with discouragement; Étienne himself signified
by a shrug of the shoulders that it would be best to go; while M.
Hennebeau touched Maheu's arm in a friendly way and asked after Jeanlin.

"That is a severe lesson now, and it is you who defend bad timbering.
You must reflect, my friends; you must realize that a strike would be
a disaster for everybody. Before a week you would die of hunger. What
would you do? I count on your good sense, anyhow; and I am convinced
that you will go down on Monday, at the latest."

They all left, going out of the drawing-room with the tramping of
a flock and rounded backs, without replying a word to this hope of
submission. The manager, who accompanied them, was obliged to continue
the conversation. The Company, on the one side, had its new tariff; the
workers, on the other, their demand for an increase of five centimes
the tram. In order that they might have no illusions, he felt he ought
to warn them that their terms would certainly be rejected by the
directors.

"Reflect before committing any follies," he repeated, disturbed at
their silence.

In the porch Pierron bowed very low, while Levaque pretended to adjust
his cap. Maheu was trying to find something to say before leaving, when
Étienne again touched his elbow. And they all left in the midst of this
threatening silence. The door closed with a loud bang.

When M. Hennebeau re-entered the dining-room he found his guests
motionless and silent before the liqueurs. In two words he told his
story to Deneulin, whose face grew still more gloomy. Then, as he
drank his cold coffee, they tried to speak of other things. But the
Grégoires themselves returned to the subject of the strike, expressing
their astonishment that no laws existed to prevent workmen from leaving
their work. Paul reassured Cécile, stating that they were expecting the
police.

At last Madame Hennebeau called the servant:

"Hippolyte, before we go into the drawing-room just open the windows
and let in a little air."



CHAPTER III


A fortnight had passed, and on the Monday of the third week the lists
sent up to the managers showed a fresh decrease in the number of the
miners who had gone down. It was expected that on that morning work
would be resumed, but the obstinacy of the directors in not yielding
exasperated the miners. The Voreux, Crévecoeur, Mirou, and Madeleine
were not the only pits resting; at the Victoire and at Feutry-Cantel
only about a quarter of the men had gone down; even Saint-Thomas was
affected. The strike was gradually becoming general.

At the Voreux a heavy silence hung over the pit-mouth. It was a dead
workshop, these great empty abandoned Yards where work was sleeping.
In the grey December sky, along the high foot-bridges three or four
empty trams bore witness to the mute sadness of things. Underneath,
between the slender posts of the platforms, the stock of coal was
diminishing, leaving the earth bare and black; while the supplies of
wood were mouldering beneath the rain. At the quay on the canal a barge
was moored, half-laden, lying drowsily in the murky water; and on the
deserted pit-bank, in which the decomposed sulphates smoked in spite of
the rain, a melancholy cart showed its shafts erect. But the buildings
especially were growing torpid, the screening-shed with closed
shutters, the steeple in which the rumbling of the receiving-room no
more arose, and the machine-room grown cold, and the giant chimney too
large for the occasional smoke. The winding-engine was only heated
in the morning. The grooms sent down fodder for the horses, and the
captains worked alone at the bottom, having become labourers again,
watching over the damages that took place in the passages as soon as
they ceased to be repaired; then, after nine o'clock the rest of the
service was carried on by the ladders. And above these dead buildings,
buried in their garment of black dust, there was only heard the
escapement of the pumping-engine, breathing with its thick, long breath
all that was left of the life of the pit, which the water would destroy
if that breathing should cease.

On the plain opposite, the settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante seemed
also to be dead. The prefect of Lille had come in haste and the
police had tramped all the roads; but in face of the calmness of the
strikers, prefect and police had decided to go home again. Never had
the settlement given so splendid an example in the vast plain. The
men, to avoid going to the public-house, slept all day long; the women
while dividing the coffee became reasonable, less anxious to gossip and
quarrel; and even the troops of children seemed to understand it all,
and were so good that they ran about with naked feet, smacking each
other silently. The word of command had been repeated and circulated
from mouth to mouth; they wished to be sensible.

There was, however, a continuous coming and going of people in the
Maheus' house. Étienne, as secretary, had divided the three thousand
francs of the Provident Fund among the needy families; afterwards
from various sides several hundred francs had arrived, yielded by
subscriptions and collections. But now all their resources were
exhausted; the miners had no more money to keep up the strike, and
hunger was there, threatening them. Maigrat, after having promised
credit for a fortnight, had suddenly altered his mind at the end of
a week and cut off provisions. He usually took his orders from the
Company; perhaps the latter wished to bring the matter to an end by
starving the settlements. He acted besides like a capricious tyrant,
giving or refusing bread according to the look of the girl who was
sent by her parents for provisions; and he especially closed his door
spitefully to Maheude, wishing to punish her because he had not been
able to get Catherine. To complete their misery it was freezing very
hard, and the women watched their piles of coal diminish, thinking
anxiously that they could no longer renew them at the pits now that the
men were not going down. It was not enough to die of hunger, they must
also die of cold.

Among the Maheus everything was already running short. The Levaques
could still eat on the strength of a twenty-franc piece lent by
Bouteloup. As to the Pierrons, they always had money; but in order
to appear as needy as the others, for fear of loans, they got their
supplies on credit from Maigrat, who would have thrown his shop at
Pierronne if she had held out her petticoat to him. Since Saturday many
families had gone to bed without supper, and in face of the terrible
days that were beginning not a complaint was heard, all obeyed the word
of command with quiet courage. There was an absolute confidence in
spite of everything, a religious faith, the blind gift of a population
of believers. Since an era of justice had been promised to them they
were willing to suffer for the conquest of universal happiness. Hunger
exalted their heads; never had the low horizon opened a larger beyond
to these people in the hallucination of their misery. They saw again
over there, when their eyes were dimmed by weakness, the ideal city
of their dream, but now growing near and seeming to be real, with its
population of brothers, its golden age of labour and meals in common.
Nothing overcame their conviction that they were at last entering it.
The fund was exhausted; the Company would not yield; every day must
aggravate the situation; and they preserved their hope and showed a
smiling contempt for facts. If the earth opened beneath them a miracle
would save them. This faith replaced bread and warmed their stomachs.
When the Maheus and the others had too quickly digested their soup,
made with clear water, they thus rose into a state of semi-vertigo,
that ecstasy of a better life which has flung martyrs to the wild
beasts.

Étienne was henceforth the unquestioned leader. In the evening
conversations he gave forth oracles, in the degree to which study
had refined him and made him able to enter into difficult matters.
He spent the nights reading, and received a large number of letters;
he even subscribed to the _Vengeur_, a Belgian Socialist paper,
and this journal, the first to enter the settlement, gained for him
extraordinary consideration among his mates. His growing popularity
excited him more every day. To carry on an extensive correspondence, to
discuss the fate of the workers in the four corners of the province,
to give advice to the Voreux miners, especially to become a centre and
to feel the world rolling round him--continually swelled the vanity
of the former engine-man, the pikeman with greasy black hands. He
was climbing a ladder, he was entering this execrated middle class,
with a satisfaction to his intelligence and comfort which he did not
confess to himself. He had only one trouble, the consciousness of
his lack of education, which made him embarrassed and timid as soon
as he was in the presence of a gentleman in a frock-coat. If he went
on instructing himself, devouring everything, the lack of method
would render assimilation very slow, and would produce such confusion
that at last he would know much more than he could understand. So at
certain hours of good sense he experienced a restlessness with regard
to his mission--a fear that he was not the man for the task. Perhaps
it required a lawyer, a learned man, able to speak and act without
compromising the mates? But an outcry soon restored his assurance. No,
no; no lawyers! They are all rascals; they profit by their knowledge to
fatten on the people. Let things turn out how they will, the workers
must manage their own affairs. And his dream of popular leadership
again soothed him: Montsou at his feet, Paris in the misty distance,
who knows? The elections some day, the tribune in a gorgeous hall,
where he could thunder against the middle class in the first speech
pronounced by a workman in a parliament.

During the last few days Étienne had been perplexed. Pluchart wrote
letter after letter, offering to come to Montsou to quicken the zeal
of the strikers. It was a question of organizing a private meeting
over which the mechanic would preside; and beneath this plan lay the
idea of exploiting the strike, to gain over to the International these
miners who so far had shown themselves suspicious. Étienne feared a
disturbance, but he would, however, have allowed Pluchart to come if
Rasseneur had not violently blamed this proceeding. In spite of his
power, the young man had to reckon with the innkeeper, whose services
were of older date, and who had faithful followers among his clients.
So he still hesitated, not knowing what to reply.

On this very Monday, towards four o'clock, a new letter came from Lille
as Étienne was alone with Maheude in the lower room. Maheu, weary of
idleness, had gone fishing; if he had the luck to catch a fine fish
under the sluice of the canal, they could sell it to buy bread. Old
Bonnemort and little Jeanlin had just gone off to try their legs,
which were now restored; while the children had departed with Alzire,
who spent hours on the pit-bank collecting cinders. Seated near the
miserable fire, which they no longer dared to keep up, Maheude, with
her dress unbuttoned and one breast hanging out of her dress and
falling to her belly, was suckling Estelle.

When the young man had folded the letter, she questioned him:

"Is the news good? Are they going to send us any money?"

He shook his head, and she went on:

"I don't know what we shall do this week. However, we'll hold on all
the same. When one has right on one's side, don't you think it gives
you heart, and one ends always by being the strongest?"

At the present time she was, to a reasonable extent, in favour of the
strike. It would have been better to force the Company to be just
without leaving off work. But since they had left it they ought not
to go back to it without obtaining justice. On this point she was
relentless. Better to die than to show oneself in the wrong when one
was right!

"Ah!" exclaimed Étienne, "if a fine old cholera was to break out, that
would free us of all these Company exploiters."

"No, no," she replied, "we must not wish any one dead. That wouldn't
help us at all; plenty more would spring up. Now I only ask that they
should get sensible ideas, and I expect they will, for there are worthy
people everywhere. You know I'm not at all for your politics."

In fact she always blamed his violent language, and thought him
aggressive. It was good that they should want their work paid for at
what it was worth, but why occupy oneself with such things as the
bourgeois and Government? Why mix oneself up with other people's
affairs, when one would get nothing out of it but hard knocks? And she
kept her esteem for him because he did not get drunk, and regularly
paid his forty-five francs for board and lodging. When a man behaves
well one can forgive him the rest.

Étienne then talked about the Republic, which would give bread to
everybody. But Maheude shook her head, for she remembered 1848, an
awful year, which had left them as bare as worms, her and her man, in
their early housekeeping years. She forgot herself in describing its
horrors, in a mournful voice, her eyes lost in space, her breast open;
while her infant, Estelle, without letting it go, had fallen asleep on
her knees. And Étienne, also absorbed in thought, had his eyes fixed on
this enormous breast, of which the soft whiteness contrasted with the
muddy yellowish complexion of her face.

"Not a farthing," she murmured, "nothing to put between one's teeth,
and all the pits stopped. Just the same destruction of poor people as
to-day."

But at that moment the door opened, and they remained mute with
surprise before Catherine, who then came in. Since her flight with
Chaval she had not reappeared at the settlement. Her emotion was so
great that, trembling and silent, she forgot to shut the door. She
expected to find her mother alone, and the sight of the young man put
out of her head the phrases she had prepared on the way.

"What on earth have you come here for?" cried Maheude, without even
moving from her chair. "I don't want to have anything more to do with
you; get along."

Then Catherine tried to find words:

"Mother, it's some coffee and sugar; yes, for the children. I've been
thinking of them and done overtime."

She drew out of her pockets a pound of coffee and a pound of sugar,
and took courage to place them on the table. The strike at the Voreux
troubled her while she was working at Jean-Bart, and she had only been
able to think of this way of helping her parents a little, under the
pretext of caring for the little ones. But her good nature did not
disarm her mother, who replied:

"Instead of bringing us sweets, you would have done better to stay and
earn bread for us."

She overwhelmed her with abuse, relieving herself by throwing in her
daughter's face all that she had been saying against her for the past
month. To go off with a man, to hang on to him at sixteen, when the
family was in want! Only the most degraded of unnatural children could
do it. One could forgive a folly, but a mother never forgot a trick
like that. There might have been some excuse if they had been strict
with her. Not at all; she was as free as air, and they only asked her
to come in to sleep.

"Tell me, what have you got in your skin, at your age?"

Catherine, standing beside the table, listened with lowered head. A
quiver shook her thin under-developed girlish body, and she tried to
reply in broken words:

"Oh! if it was only me, and the amusement that I get! It's him. What
he wants I'm obliged to want too, aren't I? because, you see, he's the
strongest. How can one tell how things are going to turn out? Anyhow
it's done and can't be undone; it may as well be him as another now.
He'll have to marry me."

She defended herself without a struggle, with the passive resignation
of a girl who has submitted to the male at an early age. Was it not the
common lot? She had never dreamed of anything else; violence behind
the pit-bank, a child at sixteen, and then a wretched household if her
lover married her. And she did not blush with shame; she only quivered
like this at being treated like a slut before this lad, whose presence
oppressed her to despair.

Étienne had risen, however, and was pretending to stir up the nearly
extinct fire in order not to interrupt the explanation. But their looks
met; he found her pale and exhausted; pretty, indeed, with her clear
eyes in the face which had grown tanned, and he experienced a singular
feeling; his spite had vanished; he simply desired that she should
be happy with this man whom she had preferred to him. He felt the
need to occupy himself with her still, a longing to go to Montsou and
force the other man to his duty. But she only saw pity in his constant
tenderness; he must feel contempt for her to gaze at her like that.
Then her heart contracted so that she choked, without being able to
stammer any more words of excuse.

"That's it, you'd best hold your tongue," began the implacable Maheude.
"If you come back to stay, come in; else get along with you at once,
and think yourself lucky that I'm not free just now, or I should have
put my foot into you somewhere before now."

As if this threat had suddenly been realized, Catherine received a
vigorous kick right behind, so violent that she was stupefied with
surprise and pain. It was Chaval who had leapt in through the open door
to give her this lunge of a vicious beast. For a moment he had watched
her from outside.

"Ah! slut," he yelled, "I've followed you. I knew well enough you were
coming back here to get him to fill you. And it's you that pay him, eh?
You pour coffee down him with my money!"

Maheude and Étienne were stupefied, and did not stir. With a furious
movement Chaval chased Catherine towards the door.

"Out you go, by God!"

And as she took refuge in a corner he turned on her mother.

"A nice business, keeping watch while your whore of a daughter is
kicking her legs upstairs!"

At last he caught Catherine's wrist, shaking her and dragging her out.
At the door he again turned towards Maheude, who was nailed to her
chair. She had forgotten to fasten up her breast. Estelle had gone to
sleep, and her face had slipped down into the woollen petticoat; the
enormous breast was hanging free and naked like the udder of a great
cow.

"When the daughter is not at it, it's the mother who gets herself
plugged," cried Chaval. "Go on, show him your meat! He isn't
disgusted--your dirty lodger!"

At this Étienne was about to strike his mate. The fear of arousing the
settlement by a fight had kept him back from snatching Catherine from
Chaval's hands. But rage was now carrying him away, and the two men
were face to face with inflamed eyes. It was an old hatred, a jealousy
long unacknowledged, which was breaking out. One of them now must do
for the other.

"Take care!" stammered Étienne, with clenched teeth. "I'll do for you."

"Try!" replied Chaval.

They looked at one another for some seconds longer, so close that
their hot breaths burnt each other's faces. And it was Catherine who
suppliantly took her lover's hand again to lead him away. She dragged
him out of the settlement, fleeing without turning her head.

"What a brute!" muttered Étienne, banging the door, and so shaken by
anger that he was obliged to sit down.

Maheude, in front of him, had not stirred. She made a vague gesture,
and there was silence, a silence which was painful and heavy with
unspoken things. In spite of an effort his gaze again returned to her
breast, that expanse of white flesh, the brilliance of which now made
him uncomfortable. No doubt she was forty, and had lost her shape, like
a good female who had produced too much; but many would still desire
her, strong and solid, with the large long face of a woman who had once
been beautiful. Slowly and quietly she was putting back her breast with
both hands. A rosy corner was still obstinate, and she pushed it back
with her finger, and then buttoned herself up, and was now quite black
and shapeless in her old gown.

"He's a filthy beast," she said at last. "Only a filthy beast could
have such nasty ideas. I don't care a hang what he says; it isn't worth
notice."

Then in a frank voice she added, fixing her eyes on the young man:

"I have my faults, sure enough, but not that one. Only two men have
touched me--a putter, long ago, when I was fifteen, and then Maheu. If
he had left me like the other, Lord! I don't quite know what would have
happened; and I don't pride myself either on my good conduct with him
since our marriage, because, when one hasn't gone wrong, it's often
because one hasn't the chance. Only I say things as they are, and I
know neighbours who couldn't say as much, don't you think?"

"That's true enough," replied Étienne.

And he rose and went out, while she decided to light the fire again,
after having placed the sleeping Estelle on two chairs. If the father
caught and sold a fish they could manage to have some soup.

Outside, night was already coming on, a frosty night; and with lowered
head Étienne walked along, sunk in dark melancholy. It was no longer
anger against the man, or pity for the poor ill-treated girl. The
brutal scene was effaced and lost, and he was thrown back on to the
sufferings of all, the abominations of wretchedness. He thought of the
settlement without bread, these women and little ones who would not
eat that evening, all this struggling race with empty bellies. And
the doubt which sometimes touched him awoke again in the frightful
melancholy of the twilight, and tortured him with a discomfort which he
had never felt so strongly before. With what a terrible responsibility
he had burdened himself! Must he still push them on in obstinate
resistance, now that there was neither money nor credit? And what
would be the end of it all if no help arrived, and starvation came to
beat down their courage? He had a sudden vision of disaster; of dying
children and sobbing mothers, while the men, lean and pale, went down
once more into the pits. He went on walking, his feet stumbling against
the stones, and the thought that the Company would be found strongest,
and that he would have brought misfortune on his comrades, filled him
with insupportable anguish.

When he raised his head he saw that he was in front of the Voreux. The
gloomy mass of buildings looked sombre beneath the growing darkness.
The deserted square, obstructed by great motionless shadows, seemed
like the corner of an abandoned fortress. As soon as the winding-engine
stopped, the soul left the place. At this hour of the night nothing was
alive, not a lantern, not a voice; and the sound of the pump itself
was only a distant moan, coming one could not say whence, in this
annihilation of the whole pit.

As Étienne gazed the blood flowed back to his heart. If the workers
were suffering hunger, the Company was encroaching on its millions. Why
should it prove the stronger in this war of labour against gold? In any
case, the victory would cost it dear. They would have their corpses to
count. He felt the fury of battle again, the fierce desire to have done
with misery, even at the price of death. It would be as well for the
settlement to die at one stroke as to go on dying in detail of famine
and injustice. His ill-digested reading came back to him, examples of
nations who had burnt their towns to arrest the enemy, vague histories
of mothers who had saved their children from slavery by crushing their
heads against the pavement, of men who had died of want rather than
eat the bread of tyrants. His head became exalted, a red gaiety arose
out of his crisis of black sadness, chasing away doubt, and making
him ashamed of this passing cowardice of an hour. And in this revival
of his faith, gusts of pride reappeared and carried him still higher;
the joy of being leader, of seeing himself obeyed, even to sacrifice,
the enlarged dream of his power, the evening of triumph. Already he
imagined a scene of simple grandeur, his refusal of power, authority
placed in the hands of the people, when it would be master.

But he awoke and started at the voice of Maheu, who was narrating his
luck, a superb trout which he had fished up and sold for three francs.

They would have their soup. Then he left his mate to return alone to
the settlement, saying that he would follow him; and he entered and
sat down in the Avantage, awaiting the departure of a client to tell
Rasseneur decisively that he should write to Pluchart to come at once.
His resolution was taken; he would organize a private meeting, for
victory seemed to him certain if the Montsou colliers adhered in a mass
to the International.



CHAPTER IV


It was at the Bon-Joyeux, Widow Désir's, that the private meeting was
organized for Thursday at two o'clock. The widow, incensed at the
miseries inflicted on her children the colliers, was in a constant
state of anger, especially as her inn was emptying. Never had there
been a less thirsty strike; the drunkards had shut themselves up at
home for fear of disobeying the sober word of command. Thus Montsou,
which swarmed with people on feast-days, now exhibited its wide street
in mute and melancholy desolation. No beer flowed from counters or
bellies, the gutters were dry. On the pavement at the Casimir Bar and
the Estaminet du Progrés one only saw the pale faces of the landladies,
looking inquiringly into the street; then in Montsou itself the
deserted doors extended from the Estaminet Lenfant to the Estaminet
Tison, passing by the Estaminet Piquette and the Tête-Coupée Bar; only
the Estaminet Saint-Éloi, which was frequented by captains, still drew
occasional glasses; the solitude even extended to the Volcan, where the
ladies were resting for lack of admirers, although they had lowered
their price from ten sous to five in view of the hard times. A deep
mourning was breaking the heart of the entire country.

"By God!" exclaimed Widow Désir, slapping her thighs with both hands,
"it's the fault of the gendarmes! Let them run me in, devil take them,
if they like, but I must plague them."

For her, all authorities and masters were gendarmes; it was a term of
general contempt in which she enveloped all the enemies of the people.
She had greeted Étienne's request with transport; her whole house
belonged to the miners, she would lend her ball-room gratuitously,
and would herself issue the invitations since the law required it.
Besides, if the law was not pleased, so much the better! She would give
them a bit of her mind. Since yesterday the young man had brought her
some fifty letters to sign; he had them copied by neighbours in the
settlement who knew how to write, and these letters were sent around
among the pits to delegates and to men of whom they were sure. The
avowed order of the day was a discussion regarding the continuation of
the strike; but in reality they were expecting Pluchart, and reckoning
on a discourse from him which would cause a general adhesion to the
International.

On Thursday morning Étienne was disquieted by the non-appearance of his
old foreman, who had promised by letter to arrive on Wednesday evening.
What, then, was happening? He was annoyed that he would not be able to
come to an understanding with him before the meeting. At nine o'clock
he went to Montsou, with the idea that the mechanic had, perhaps, gone
there direct without stopping at the Voreux.

"No, I've not seen your friend," replied Widow Désir. "But everything
is ready. Come and see."

She led him into the ball-room. The decorations were the same, the
garlands which supported at the ceiling a crown of painted paper
flowers, and the gilt cardboard shields in a line along the wall with
the names of saints, male and female. Only the musicians' platform had
been replaced by a table and three chairs in one corner; and the room
was furnished with forms ranged along the floor.

"It's perfect," Étienne declared.

"And you know," said the widow, "that you're at home here. Yell as much
as you like. The gendarmes will have to pass over my body if they do
come!"

In spite of his anxiety, he could not help smiling when he looked at
her, so vast did she appear, with a pair of breasts so huge that one
alone would require a man to embrace it, which now led to the saying
that of her six weekday lovers she had to take two every evening on
account of the work.

But Étienne was astonished to see Rasseneur and Souvarine enter; and as
the widow left them all three in the large empty hall he exclaimed:

"What! you here already!"

Souvarine, who had worked all night at the Voreux, the engine-men not
being on strike, had merely come out of curiosity. As to Rasseneur, he
had seemed constrained during the last two days, and his fat round face
had lost its good-natured laugh.

"Pluchart has not arrived, and I am very anxious," added Étienne.

The innkeeper turned away his eyes, and replied between his teeth:

"I'm not surprised; I don't expect him."

"What!"

Then he made up his mind, and looking the other man in the face bravely:

"I, too, have sent him a letter, if you want me to tell you; and in
that letter I have begged him not to come. Yes, I think we ought to
manage our own affairs ourselves, without turning to strangers."

Étienne, losing his self-possession and trembling with anger, turned
his eyes on his mate's and stammered:

"You've done that, you've done that?"

"I have done that, certainly! and you know that I trust Pluchart; he's
a knowing fellow and reliable, one can get on with him. But you see I
don't care a damn for your ideas, I don't! Politics, Government, and
all that, I don't care a damn for it! What I want is for the miner to
be better treated. I have worked down below for twenty years, I've
sweated down there with fatigue and misery, and I've sworn to make it
easier for the poor beggars who are there still; and I know well enough
you'll never get anything with all your ideas, you'll only make the
men's fate more miserable still. When they are forced by hunger to go
down again, they will be more crushed than ever; the Company will pay
them with strokes of the stick, like a runaway dog who is brought back
to his kennel. That's what I want to prevent, do you see!"

He raised his voice, protruding his belly and squarely planted on his
big legs. The man's whole patient, reasonable nature was revealed in
clear phrases, which flowed abundantly without an effort. Was it not
absurd to believe that with one stroke one could change the world,
putting the workers in the place of the masters and dividing gold as
one divides an apple? It would, perhaps, take thousands and thousands
of years for that to be realized. There, hold your tongue, with your
miracles! The most sensible plan was, if one did not wish to break
one's nose, to go straight forward, to demand possible reforms, in
short, to improve the lot of the workers on every occasion. He did
his best, so far as he occupied himself with it, to bring the Company
to better terms; if not, damn it all! they would only starve by being
obstinate.

Étienne had let him speak, his own speech cut short by indignation.
Then he cried:

"Haven't you got any blood in your veins, by God?"

At one moment he would have struck him, and to resist the temptation
he rushed about the hall with long strides, venting his fury on the
benches through which he made a passage.

"Shut the door, at all events," Souvarine remarked. "There is no need
to be heard."

Having himself gone to shut it, he quietly sat down in one of the
office chairs. He had rolled a cigarette, and was looking at the other
two men with his mild subtle eye, his lips drawn by a slight smile.

"You won't get any farther by being angry," said Rasseneur judiciously.
"I believed at first that you had good sense. It was sensible to
recommend calmness to the mates, to force them to keep indoors, and to
use your power to maintain order. And now you want to get them into a
mess!"

At each turn in his walks among the benches, Étienne returned towards
the innkeeper, seizing him by the shoulders, shaking him, and shouting
out his replies in his face.

"But, blast it all! I mean to be calm. Yes, I have imposed order on
them! Yes, I do advise them still not to stir! only it doesn't do to be
made a joke of after all! You are lucky to remain cool. Now there are
hours when I feel that I am losing my head."

This was a confession on his part. He railed at his illusions of a
novice, his religious dream of a city in which justice would soon
reign among the men who had become brothers. A fine method truly!
to cross one's arms and wait, if one wished to see men eating each
other to the end of the world like wolves. No! one must interfere, or
injustice would be eternal, and the rich would for ever suck the blood
of the poor. Therefore he could not forgive himself the stupidity
of having said formerly that politics ought to be banished from the
social question. He knew nothing then; now he had read and studied,
his ideas were ripe, and he boasted that he had a system. He explained
it badly, however, in confused phrases which contained a little of
all the theories he had successively passed through and abandoned.
At the summit Karl Marx's idea remained standing: capital was the
result of spoliation, it was the duty and the privilege of labour
to reconquer that stolen wealth. In practice he had at first, with
Proudhon, been captured by the chimera of a mutual credit, a vast bank
of exchange which suppressed middlemen; then Lassalle's cooperative
societies, endowed by the state, gradually transforming the earth into
a single industrial town, had aroused his enthusiasm until he grew
disgusted in face of the difficulty of controlling them; and he had
arrived recently at collectivism, demanding that all the instruments
of production should be restored to the community. But this remained
vague; he knew not how to realize this new dream, still hindered by
scruples of reason and good sense, not daring to risk the secretary's
absolute affirmations. He simply said that it was a question of getting
possession of the government first of all. Afterwards they would see.

"But what has taken you? Why are you going over to the bourgeois?" he
continued violently, again planting himself before the innkeeper. "You
said yourself it would have to burst up!"

Rasseneur blushed slightly.

"Yes, I said so. And if it does burst up, you will see that I am no
more of a coward than any one else. Only I refuse to be among those who
increase the mess in order to fish out a position for themselves."

Étienne blushed in his turn. The two men no longer shouted, having
become bitter and spiteful, conquered by the coldness of their rivalry.
It was at bottom that which always strains systems, making one man
revolutionary in the extreme, pushing the other to an affectation of
prudence, carrying them, in spite of themselves, beyond their true
ideas into those fatal parts which men do not choose for themselves.
And Souvarine, who was listening, exhibited on his pale, girlish face
a silent contempt--the crushing contempt of the man who was willing
to yield his life in obscurity without even gaining the splendour of
martyrdom.

"Then it's to me that you're saying that?" asked Étienne; "you're
jealous!"

"Jealous of what?" replied Rasseneur. "I don't pose as a big man; I'm
not trying to create a section at Montsou for the sake of being made
secretary."

The other man wanted to interrupt him, but he added:

"Why don't you be frank? You don't care a damn for the International;
you're only burning to be at our head, the gentleman who corresponds
with the famous Federal Council of the Nord!"

There was silence. Étienne replied, quivering:

"Good! I don't think I have anything to reproach myself with. I always
asked your advice, for I knew that you had fought here long before me.
But since you can't endure any one by your side, I'll act alone in
future. And first I warn you that the meeting will take place even if
Pluchart does not come, and the mates will join in spite of you."

"Oh! join!" muttered the innkeeper; "that's not enough. You'll have to
get them to pay their subscriptions."

"Not at all. The International grants time to workers on strike. It
will at once come to our help, and we shall pay later on."

Rasseneur was carried beyond himself.

"Well, we shall see. I belong to this meeting of yours, and I shall
speak. I shall not let you turn our friends' heads, I shall let them
know where their real interests lie. We shall see whom they mean to
follow--me, whom they have known for thirty years, or you, who have
turned everything upside down among us in less than a year. No, no!
damn it all! We shall see which of us is going to crush the other."

And he went out, banging the door. The garlands of flowers swayed from
the ceiling, and the gilt shields jumped against the walls. Then the
great room fell back into its heavy calm.

Souvarine was smoking in his quiet way, seated before the table.
After having paced for a moment in silence, Étienne began to relieve
his feelings at length. Was it his fault if they had left that fat
lazy fellow to come to him? And he defended himself from having ought
popularity. He knew not even how it had happened, this friendliness
of the settlement, the confidence of the miners, the power which he
now had over them. He was indignant at being accused of wishing to
bring everything to confusion out of ambition; he struck his chest,
protesting his brotherly feelings.

Suddenly he stopped before Souvarine and exclaimed:

"Do you know, if I thought I should cost a drop of blood to a friend, I
would go off at once to America!"

The engine-man shrugged his shoulders, and a smile again came on his
lips.

"Oh! blood!" he murmured. "What does that matter? The earth has need of
it."

Étienne, growing calm, took a chair, and put his elbows on the other
side of the table. This fair face, with the dreamy eyes, which
sometimes grew savage with a red light, disturbed him, and exercised
a singular power over his will. In spite of his comrade's silence,
conquered even by that silence, he felt himself gradually absorbed.

"Well," he asked, "what would you do in my place? Am I not right to act
as I do? Isn't it best for us to join this association?"

Souvarine, after having slowly ejected a jet of smoke, replied by his
favourite word:

"Oh, foolery! but meanwhile it's always so. Besides, their
International will soon begin to move. He has taken it up."

"Who, then?"

"He!"

He had pronounced this word in a whisper, with religious fervour,
casting a glance towards the east. He was speaking of the master,
Bakunin the destroyer.

"He alone can give the thunderclap," he went on, "while your learned
men, with their evolution, are mere cowards. Before three years are
past, the International, under his orders, will crush the old world."

Étienne pricked up his ears in attention. He was burning to gain
knowledge, to understand this worship of destruction, regarding which
the engine-man only uttered occasional obscure words, as though he kept
certain mysteries to himself.

"Well, but explain to me. What is your aim?"

"To destroy everything. No more nations, no more governments, no more
property, no more God nor worship."

"I quite understand. Only what will that lead you to?"

"To the primitive formless commune, to a new world, to the renewal of
everything."

"And the means of execution? How do you reckon to set about it?"

"By fire, by poison, by the dagger. The brigand is the true hero, the
popular avenger, the revolutionary in action, with no phrases drawn
out of books. We need a series of tremendous outrages to frighten the
powerful and to arouse the people."

As he talked, Souvarine grew terrible. An ecstasy raised him on his
chair, a mystic flame darted from his pale eyes, and his delicate hands
gripped the edge of the table almost to breaking. The other man looked
at him in fear, and thought of the stories of which he had received
vague intimation, of mines charged beneath the tsar's palace, of chiefs
of police struck down by knives like wild boars, of his mistress, the
only woman he had loved, hanged at Moscow one rainy morning, while in
the crowd he kissed her with his eyes for the last time.

"No! no!" murmured Étienne, as with a gesture he pushed away these
abominable visions, "we haven't got to that yet over here. Murder and
fire, never! It is monstrous, unjust, all the mates would rise and
strangle the guilty one!"

And besides, he could not understand; the instincts of his race refused
to accept this sombre dream of the extermination of the world, mown
level like a rye-field. Then what would they do afterwards? How would
the nations spring up again? He demanded a reply.

"Tell me your programme. We like to know where we are going to."

Then Souvarine concluded peacefully, with his gaze fixed on space:

"All reasoning about the future is criminal, because it prevents pure
destruction, and interferes with the progress of revolution."

This made Étienne laugh, in spite of the cold shiver which passed over
his flesh. Besides, he willingly acknowledged that there was something
in these ideas, which attracted him by their fearful simplicity. Only
it would be playing into Rasseneur's hands if he were to repeat such
things to his comrades. It was necessary to be practical.

Widow Désir proposed that they should have lunch. They agreed, and
went into the inn parlour, which was separated from the ball-room on
weekdays by a movable partition. When they had finished their omelette
and cheese, the engine-man proposed to depart, and as the other tried
to detain him:

"What for? To listen to you talking useless foolery? I've seen enough
of it. Good day."

He went off in his gentle, obstinate way, with a cigarette between his
lips.

Étienne's anxiety increased. It was one o'clock, and Pluchart was
decidedly breaking his promise. Towards half-past one the delegates
began to appear, and he had to receive them, for he wished to see
who entered, for fear that the Company might send its usual spies.
He examined every letter of invitation, and took note of those who
entered; many came in without a letter, as they were admitted provided
he knew them. As two o'clock struck Rasseneur entered, finishing
his pipe at the counter, and chatting without haste. This provoking
calmness still further disturbed Étienne, all the more as many had come
merely for fun--Zacharie, Mouquet, and others. These cared little about
the strike, and found it a great joke to do nothing. Seated at tables,
and spending their last two sous on drink, they grinned and bantered
their mates, the serious ones, who had come to make fools of themselves.

Another quarter of an hour passed; there was impatience in the hall.
Then Étienne, in despair, made a gesture of resolution. And he decided
to enter, when Widow Désir, who was putting her head outside, exclaimed:

"But here he is, your gentleman!"

It was, in fact, Pluchart. He came in a cab drawn by a broken-winded
horse. He jumped at once on to the pavement, a thin, insipidly handsome
man, with a large square head;--in his black cloth frock-coat he had
the Sunday air of a well-to-do workman. For five years he had not done
a stroke with the file, and he took care of his appearance, especially
combing his hair in a correct manner, vain of his successes on the
platform; but his limbs were still stiff, and the nails of his large
hands, eaten by the iron, had not grown again. Very active, he worked
out his ambitions, scouring the province unceasingly in order to place
his ideas.

"Ah! don't be angry with me," he said, anticipating questions and
reproaches. "Yesterday, lecture at Preuilly in the morning, meeting in
the evening at Valencay. Today, lunch at Marchiennes with Sauvagnat.
Then I had to take a cab. I'm worn out; you can tell by my voice. But
that's nothing; I shall speak all the same."

He was on the threshold of the Bon-Joyeux, when he bethought himself.

"By jingo! I'm forgetting the tickets. We should have been in a fine
fix!"

He went back to the cab, which the cabman drew up again, and he pulled
out a little black wooden box, which he carried off under his arm.

Étienne walked radiantly in his shadow, while Rasseneur, in
consternation, did not dare to offer his hand. But the other was
already pressing it, and saying a rapid word or two about the letter.
What a rum idea! Why not hold this meeting? One should always hold a
meeting when possible. Widow Désir asked if he would take anything,
but he refused. No need; he spoke without drinking. Only he was in
a hurry, because in the evening he reckoned on pushing as far as
Joiselle, where he wished to come to an understanding with Legoujeux.
Then they all entered the ball-room together. Maheu and Levaque, who
had arrived late, followed them. The door was then locked, in order to
be in privacy. This made the jokers laugh even more, Zacharie shouting
to Mouquet that perhaps they were going to get them all with child in
there.

About a hundred miners were waiting on the benches in the close air of
the room, with the warm odours of the last ball rising from the floor.
Whispers ran round and all heads turned, while the new-comers sat down
in the empty places. They gazed at the Lille gentleman, and the black
frock-coat caused a certain surprise and discomfort.

But on Étienne's proposition the meeting was at once constituted. He
gave out the names, while the others approved by lifting their hands.
Pluchart was nominated chairman, and Maheu and Étienne himself were
voted stewards. There was a movement of chairs and the officers were
installed; for a moment they watched the chairman disappear beneath the
table under which he slid the box, which he had not let go. When he
reappeared he struck lightly with his fist to call for attention; then
he began in a hoarse voice:

"Citizens!"

A little door opened and he had to stop. It was Widow Désir who, coming
round by the kitchen, brought in six glasses on a tray.

"Don't put yourselves out," she said. "When one talks one gets thirsty."

Maheu relieved her of the tray and Pluchart was able to go on. He said
how very touched he was at his reception by the Montsou workers, he
excused himself for his delay, mentioning his fatigue and his sore
throat, then he gave place to Citizen Rasseneur, who wished to speak.

Rasseneur had already planted himself beside the table near the
glasses. The back of a chair served him as a rostrum. He seemed very
moved, and coughed before starting in a loud voice:

"Mates!"

What gave him his influence over the workers at the pit was the
facility of his speech, the good-natured way in which he could go
on talking to them by the hour without ever growing weary. He never
ventured to gesticulate, but stood stolid and smiling, drowning them
and dazing them, until they all shouted: "Yes, yes, that's true enough,
you're right!" However, on this day, from the first word, he felt that
there was a sullen opposition. This made him advance prudently. He
only discussed the continuation of the strike, and waited for applause
before attacking the International. Certainly honour prevented them
from yielding to the Company's demands; but how much misery! what
a terrible future if it was necessary to persist much longer! and
without declaring for submission he damped their courage, he showed
them the settlements dying of hunger, he asked on what resources the
partisans of resistance were counting. Three or four friends tried to
applaud him, but this accentuated the cold silence of the majority,
and the gradually rising disapprobation which greeted his phrases.
Then, despairing of winning them over, he was carried away by anger,
he foretold misfortune if they allowed their heads to be turned at
the instigation of strangers. Two-thirds of the audience had risen
indignantly, trying to silence him, since he insulted them by treating
them like children unable to act for themselves. But he went on
speaking in spite of the tumult, taking repeated gulps of beer, and
shouting violently that the man was not born who would prevent him from
doing his duty.

Pluchart had risen. As he had no bell he struck his fist on the table,
repeating in his hoarse voice:

"Citizens, citizens!"

At last he obtained a little quiet and the meeting, when consulted,
brought Rasseneur's speech to an end. The delegates who had represented
the pits in the interview with the manager led the others, all enraged
by starvation and agitated by new ideas. The voting was decided in
advance.

"You don't care a damn, you don't! you can eat!" yelled Levaque,
thrusting out his fist at Rasseneur.

Étienne leaned over behind the chairman's back to appease Maheu, who
was very red, and carried out of himself by this hypocritical discourse.

"Citizens!" said Pluchart, "allow me to speak!"

There was deep silence. He spoke. His voice sounded painful and hoarse;
but he was used to it on his journeys, and took his laryngitis about
with him like his programme. Gradually his voice expanded and he
produced pathetic effects with it. With open arms and accompanying his
periods with a swaying of his shoulders, he had an eloquence which
recalled the pulpit, a religious fashion of sinking the ends of his
sentences whose monotonous roll at last carried conviction.

His discourse centred on the greatness and the advantages of the
International; it was that with which he always started in every new
locality. He explained its aim, the emancipation of the workers; he
showed its imposing structure--below the commune, higher the province,
still higher the nation, and at the summit humanity. His arms moved
slowly, piling up the stages, preparing the immense cathedral of the
future world. Then there was the internal administration: he read the
statutes, spoke of the congresses, pointed out the growing importance
of the work, the enlargement of the programme, which, starting from the
discussion of wages, was now working towards a social liquidation, to
have done with the wage system. No more nationalities. The workers of
the whole world would be united by a common need for justice, sweeping
away the middle-class corruption, founding, at last, a free society,
in which he who did not work should not reap! He roared; his breath
startled the flowers of painted paper beneath the low smoky ceiling
which sent back the sound of his voice.

A wave passed through the audience. Some of them cried:

"That's it! We're with you."

He went on. The world would be conquered before three years. And he
enumerated the nations already conquered. From all sides adhesions were
raining in. Never had a young religion counted so many disciples. Then,
when they had the upper hand they would dictate terms to the masters,
who, in their turn, would have a fist at their throats.

"Yes, yes! they'll have to go down!"

With a gesture he enforced silence. Now he was entering on the strike
question. In principle he disapproved of strikes; it was a slow method,
which aggravated the sufferings of the worker. But before better things
arrived, and when they were inevitable, one must make up one's mind
to them, for they had the advantage of disorganizing capital. And in
this case he showed the International as providence for strikers, and
quoted examples: in Paris, during the strike of the bronze-workers, the
masters had granted everything at once, terrified at the news that the
International was sending help; in London it had saved the miners at a
colliery, by sending back, at its own expense, a ship-load of Belgians
who had been brought over by the coal-owner. It was sufficient to join
and the companies trembled, for the men entered the great army of
workers who were resolved to die for one another rather than to remain
the slaves of a capitalistic society.

Applause interrupted him. He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief,
at the same time refusing a glass which Maheu passed to him. When he
was about to continue fresh applause cut short his speech.

"It's all right," he said rapidly to Étienne. "They've had enough.
Quick! the cards!"

He had plunged beneath the table, and reappeared with the little black
wooden box.

"Citizens!" he shouted, dominating the disturbance, "here are the cards
of membership. Let your delegates come up, and I will give them to them
to be distributed. Later on we can arrange everything."

Rasseneur rushed forward and again protested. Étienne was also
agitated; having to make a speech. Extreme confusion followed. Levaque
jumped up with his fists out, as if to fight. Maheu was up and
speaking, but nobody could distinguish a single word. In the growing
tumult the dust rose from the floor, a floating dust of former balls,
poisoning the air with a strong odour of putters and trammers.

Suddenly the little door opened, and Widow Désir filled it with her
belly and breast, shouting in a thundering voice:

"For God's sake, silence! The gendarmes!"

It was the commissioner of the district, who had arrived rather late
to prepare a report and to break up the meeting. Four gendarmes
accompanied him. For five minutes the widow had delayed them at the
door, replying that she was at home, and that she had a perfect right
to entertain her friends. But they had hustled her away, and she had
rushed in to warn her children.

"Must clear out through here," she said again. "There's a dirty
gendarme guarding the court. It doesn't matter; my little wood-house
opens into the alley. Quick, then!" The commissioner was already
knocking with his fist, and as the door was not opened, he threatened
to force it. A spy must have talked, for he cried that the meeting was
illegal, a large number of miners being there without any letter of
invitation.

In the hall the trouble was growing. They could not escape thus; they
had not even voted either for adhesion or for the continuation of the
strike. All persisted in talking at the same time. At last the chairman
suggested a vote by acclamation. Arms were raised, and the delegates
declared hastily that they would join in the name of their absent
mates. And it was thus that the ten thousand colliers of Montsou became
members of the International. Meanwhile, the retreat began. In order to
cover it, Widow Désir had propped herself up against the door, which
the butt-ends of the gendarmes' muskets were forcing at her back. The
miners jumped over the benches, and escaped, one by one, through the
kitchen and the wood-yard. Rasseneur disappeared among the first, and
Levaque followed him, forgetful of his abuse, and planning how he could
get an offer of a glass to pull himself together. Étienne, after having
seized the little box, waited with Pluchart and Maheu, who considered
it a point of honour to emerge last. As they disappeared the lock gave,
and the commissioner found himself in the presence of the widow, whose
breast and belly still formed a barricade.

"It doesn't help you much to smash everything in my house," she said.
"You can see there's nobody here."

The commissioner, a slow man who did not care for scenes, simply
threatened to take her off to prison. And he then went away with his
four gendarmes to prepare a report, beneath the jeers of Zacharie and
Mouquet, who were full of admiration for the way in which their mates
had humbugged this armed force, for which they themselves did not care
a hang.

In the alley outside, Étienne, embarrassed by the box, was rushing
along, followed by the others. He suddenly thought of Pierron, and
asked why he had not turned up. Maheu, also running, replied that he
was ill--a convenient illness, the fear of compromising himself. They
wished to retain Pluchart, but, without stopping, he declared that
he must set out at once for Joiselle, where Legoujeux was awaiting
orders. Then, as they ran, they shouted out to him their wishes for a
pleasant journey, and rushed through Montsou with their heels in the
air. A few words were exchanged, broken by the panting of their chests.
Étienne and Maheu were laughing confidently, henceforth certain of
victory. When the International had sent help, it would be the Company
that would beg them to resume work. And in this burst of hope, in
this gallop of big boots sounding over the pavement of the streets,
there was something else also, something sombre and fierce, a gust of
violence which would inflame the settlements in the four corners of the
country.



CHAPTER V


Another fortnight had passed by. It was the beginning of January and
cold mists benumbed the immense plain. The misery had grown still
greater, and the settlements were in agony from hour to hour beneath
the increasing famine. Four thousand francs sent by the International
from London had scarcely supplied bread for three days, and then
nothing had come. This great dead hope was beating down their courage.
On what were they to count now since even their brothers had abandoned
them? They felt themselves separated from the world and lost in the
midst of this deep winter.

On Tuesday no resources were left in the Deux-Cent-Quarante
settlement. Étienne and the delegates had multiplied their energies.
New subscriptions were opened in the neighbouring towns, and even in
Paris; collections were made and lectures organized. These efforts
came to nothing. Public opinion, which had at first been moved, grew
indifferent now that the strike dragged on for ever, and so quietly,
without any dramatic incidents. Small charities scarcely sufficed to
maintain the poorer families. The others lived by pawning their clothes
and selling up the household piece by piece. Everything went to the
brokers, the wool of the mattresses, the kitchen utensils, even the
furniture. For a moment they thought themselves saved, for the small
retail shopkeepers of Montsou, killed out by Maigrat, had offered
credit to try and get back their custom; and for a week Verdonck, the
grocer, and the two bakers, Carouble and Smelten, kept open shop, but
when their advances were exhausted all three stopped. The bailiffs
were rejoicing; there only resulted a piling up of debts which would
for a long time weigh upon the miners. There was no more credit to be
had anywhere and not an old saucepan to sell; they might lie down in a
corner to die like mangy dogs.

Étienne would have sold his flesh. He had given up his salary and had
gone to Marchiennes to pawn his trousers and cloth coat, happy to set
the Maheus' pot boiling once more. His boots alone remained, and he
retained these to keep a firm foothold, he said. His grief was that
the strike had come on too early, before the Provident Fund had had
time to swell. He regarded this as the only cause of the disaster, for
the workers would surely triumph over the masters on the day when they
had saved enough money to resist. And he recalled Souvarine's words
accusing the Company of pushing forward the strike to destroy the fund
at the beginning.

The sight of the settlement and of these poor people without bread or
fire overcame him. He preferred to go out and to weary himself with
distant walks. One evening, as he was coming back and passing near
Réquillart, he perceived an old woman who had fainted by the roadside.
No doubt she was dying of hunger; and having raised her he began to
shout to a girl whom he saw on the other side of the paling.

"Why! is it you?" he said, recognizing Mouquette. "Come and help me
then, we must give her something to drink."

Mouquette, moved to tears, quickly went into the shaky hovel which her
father had set up in the midst of the ruins. She came back at once with
gin and a loaf. The gin revived the old woman, who without speaking bit
greedily into the bread. She was the mother of a miner who lived at a
settlement on the Cougny side, and she had fallen there on returning
from Joiselle, where she had in vain attempted to borrow half a franc
from a sister. When she had eaten she went away dazed.

Étienne stood in the open field of Réquillart, where the crumbling
sheds were disappearing beneath the brambles.

"Well, won't you come in and drink a little glass?" asked Mouquette
merrily.

And as he hesitated:

"Then you're still afraid of me?"

He followed her, won by her laughter. This bread, which she had given
so willingly, moved him. She would not take him into her father's room,
but led him into her own room, where she at once poured out two little
glasses of gin. The room was very neat and he complimented her on it.
Besides, the family seemed to want for nothing; the father continued
his duties as a groom at the Voreux while she, saying that she could
not live with folded arms, had become a laundress, which brought her in
thirty sous a day. One may amuse oneself with men but one isn't lazy
for all that.

"I say," she murmured, all at once coming and putting her arms round
him prettily, "why don't you like me?"

He could not help laughing, she had done this in so charming a way.

"But I like you very much," he replied.

"No, no, not like I mean. You know that I am dying of longing. Come, it
would give me so much pleasure."

It was true, she had desired him for six months. He still looked at her
as she clung to him, pressing him with her two tremulous arms, her face
raised with such supplicating love that he was deeply moved. There was
nothing beautiful in her large round face, with its yellow complexion
eaten by the coal; but her eyes shone with flame, a charm rose from
her skin, a trembling of desire which made her rosy and young. In face
of this gift which was so humble and so ardent he no longer dared to
refuse.

"Oh! you are willing," she stammered, delighted. "Oh! you are willing!"

And she gave herself up with the fainting awkwardness of a virgin, as
if it was for the first time, and she had never before known a man.
Then when he left her, it was she who was overcome with gratitude; she
thanked him and kissed his hands.

Étienne remained rather ashamed of this good fortune. Nobody boasted
of having had Mouquette. As he went away he swore that it should not
occur again, but he preserved a friendly remembrance of her; she was a
capital girl.

When he got back to the settlement, he found serious news which made
him forget the adventure. The rumour was circulating that the Company
would, perhaps, agree to make a concession if the delegates made
a fresh attempt with the manager. At all events some captains had
spread this rumour. The truth was, that in this struggle the mine
was suffering even more than the miners. On both sides obstinacy was
piling up ruin: while labour was dying of hunger, capital was being
destroyed. Every day of rest carried away hundreds of thousands of
francs. Every machine which stops is a dead machine. Tools and material
are impaired, the money that is sunk melts away like water drunk by
the sand. Since the small stock of coal at the surface of the pits was
exhausted, customers talked of going to Belgium, so that in future they
would be threatened from that quarter. But what especially frightened
the Company, although the matter was carefully concealed, was the
increasing damage to the galleries and workings. The captains could
not cope with the repairs, the timber was falling everywhere, and
landslips were constantly taking place. Soon the disasters became so
serious that long months would be needed for repairs before hewing
could be resumed. Already stories were going about the country: at
Crévecoeur three hundred metres of road had subsided in a mass,
stopping up access to the Cinq-Paumes; at Madeleine the Maugrétout seam
was crumbling away and filling with water. The management refused to
admit this, but suddenly two accidents, one after the other, had forced
them to avow it. One morning, near Piolaine, the ground was found
cracked above the north gallery of Mirou which had fallen in the day
before; and on the following day the ground subsided within the Voreux,
shaking a corner of a suburb to such an extent that two houses nearly
disappeared.

Étienne and the delegates hesitated to risk any steps without knowing
the directors' intentions. Dansaert, whom they questioned, avoided
replying: certainly, the misunderstanding was deplored, and everything
would be done to bring about an agreement; but he could say nothing
definitely. At last, they decided that they would go to M. Hennebeau
in order to have reason on their side; for they did not wish to be
accused, later on, of having refused the Company an opportunity of
acknowledging that it had been in the wrong. Only they vowed to yield
nothing and to maintain, in spite of everything, their terms, which
were alone just.

The interview took place on Tuesday morning, when the settlement was
sinking into desperate wretchedness. It was less cordial than the
first interview. Maheu was still the speaker, and he explained that
their mates had sent them to ask if these gentlemen had anything new
to say. At first M. Hennebeau affected surprise: no order had reached
him, nothing could be changed so long as the miners persisted in their
detestable rebellion; and this official stiffness produced the worst
effects, so that if the delegates had gone out of their way to offer
conciliation, the way in which they were received would only have
served to make them more obstinate. Afterwards the manager tried to
seek a basis of mutual concession; thus, if the men would accept the
separate payment for timbering, the Company would raise that payment
by the two centimes which they were accused of profiting by. Besides,
he added that he would take the offer on himself, that nothing was
settled, but that he flattered himself he could obtain this concession
from Paris. But the delegates refused, and repeated their demands: the
retention of the old system, with a rise of five centimes a tram. Then
he acknowledged that he could treat with them at once, and urged them
to accept in the name of their wives and little ones dying of hunger.
And with eyes on the ground and stiff heads they said no, always no,
with fierce vigour. They separated curtly. M. Hennebeau banged the
doors. Étienne, Maheu, and the others went off stamping with their
great heels on the pavement in the mute rage of the vanquished pushed
to extremes.

Towards two o'clock the women of the settlement, on their side, made
an application to Maigrat. There was only this hope left, to bend this
man and to wrench from him another week's credit. The idea originated
with Maheude, who often counted too much on people's good-nature. She
persuaded the Brulé and the Levaque to accompany her; as to Pierronne,
she excused herself, saying that she could not leave Pierron, whose
illness still continued. Other women joined the band till they numbered
quite twenty. When the inhabitants of Montsou saw them arrive, gloomy
and wretched, occupying the whole width of the road, they shook their
heads anxiously. Doors were closed, and one lady hid her plate. It was
the first time they had been seen thus, and there could not be a worse
sign: usually everything was going to ruin when the women thus took to
the roads. At Maigrat's there was a violent scene. At first, he had
made them go in, jeering and pretending to believe that they had come
to pay their debts: that was nice of them to have agreed to come and
bring the money all at once. Then, as soon as Maheude began to speak he
pretended to be enraged. Were they making fun of people? More credit!
Then they wanted to turn him into the street? No, not a single potato,
not a single crumb of bread! And he told them to be off to the grocer
Verdonck, and to the bakers Carouble and Smelten, since they now dealt
with them. The women listened with timid humility, apologizing, and
watching his eyes to see if he would relent. He began to joke, offering
his shop to the Brulé if she would have him as a lover. They were all
so cowardly that they laughed at this; and the Levaque improved on it,
declaring that she was willing, she was. But he at once became abusive,
and pushed them towards the door. As they insisted, suppliantly, he
treated one brutally. The others on the pavement shouted that he had
sold himself to the Company, while Maheude, with her arms in the air,
in a burst of avenging indignation, cried out for his death, exclaiming
that such a man did not deserve to eat.

The return to the settlement was melancholy. When the women came back
with empty hands, the men looked at them and then lowered their heads.
There was nothing more to be done, the day would end without a spoonful
of soup; and the other days extended in an icy shadow, without a ray
of hope. They had made up their minds to it, and no one spoke of
surrender. This excess of misery made them still more obstinate, mute
as tracked beasts, resolved to die at the bottom of their hole rather
than come out. Who would dare to be first to speak of submission?
They had sworn with their mates to hold together, and hold together
they would, as they held together at the pit when one of them was
beneath a landslip. It was as it ought to be; it was a good school
for resignation down there. They might well tighten their belts for
a week, when they had been swallowing fire and water ever since they
were twelve years of age; and their devotion was thus augmented by the
pride of soldiers, of men proud of their profession, who in their daily
struggle with death had gained a pride in sacrifice.

With the Maheus it was a terrible evening. They were all silent, seated
before the dying fire in which the last cinders were smoking. After
having emptied the mattresses, handful by handful, they had decided
the day before to sell the clock for three francs and the room seemed
bare and dead now that the familiar tick-tack no longer filled it with
sound. The only object of luxury now, in the middle of the sideboard,
was the rose cardboard box, an old present from Maheu, which Maheude
treasured like a jewel. The two good chairs had gone; Father Bonnemort
and the children were squeezed together on an old mossy bench brought
in from the garden. And the livid twilight now coming on seemed to
increase the cold.

"What's to be done?" repeated Maheude, crouching down in the corner by
the oven.

Étienne stood up, looking at the portraits of the Emperor and Empress
stuck against the wall. He would have torn them down long since if
the family had not preserved them for ornament. So he murmured, with
clenched teeth:

"And to think that we can't get two sous out of these damned idiots,
who are watching us starve!"

"If I were to take the box?" said the woman, very pale, after some
hesitation.

Maheu, seated on the edge of the table, with his legs dangling and his
head on his chest, sat up.

"No! I won't have it!"

Maheude painfully rose and walked round the room. Good God! was it
possible that they were reduced to such misery? The cupboard without
a crumb, nothing more to sell, no notion where to get a loaf! And the
fire, which was nearly out! She became angry with Alzire, whom she had
sent in the morning to glean on the pit-bank, and who had come back
with empty hands, saying that the Company would not allow gleaning. Did
it matter a hang what the Company wanted? As if they were robbing any
one by picking up the bits of lost coal! The little girl, in despair,
told how a man had threatened to hit her; then she promised to go back
next day, even if she was beaten.

"And that imp, Jeanlin," cried the mother; "where is he now, I should
like to know? He ought to have brought the salad; we can browse on
that like beasts, at all events! You will see, he won't come back.
Yesterday, too, he slept out. I don't know what he's up to; the rascal
always looks as though his belly were full."

"Perhaps," said Étienne, "he picks up sous on the road."

She suddenly lifted both fists furiously.

"If I knew that! My children beg! I'd rather kill them and myself too."

Maheu had again sunk down on the edge of the table. Lénore and Henri,
astonished that they had nothing to eat, began to moan; while old
Bonnemort, in silence, philosophically rolled his tongue in his mouth
to deceive his hunger. No one spoke any more; all were becoming
benumbed beneath this aggravation of their evils; the grandfather,
coughing and spitting out the black phlegm, taken again by rheumatism
which was turning to dropsy; the father asthmatic, and with knees
swollen with water; the mother and the little ones scarred by scrofula
and hereditary anaemia. No doubt their work made this inevitable; they
only complained when the lack of food killed them off; and already they
were falling like flies in the settlement. But something must be found
for supper. My God! where was it to be found, what was to be done?

Then, in the twilight, which made the room more and more gloomy with
its dark melancholy, Étienne, who had been hesitating for a moment, at
last decided with aching heart.

"Wait for me," he said. "I'll go and see somewhere."

And he went out. The idea of Mouquette had occurred to him. She would
certainly have a loaf, and would give it willingly. It annoyed him to
be thus forced to return to Réquillart; this girl would kiss his hands
with her air of an amorous servant; but one did not leave one's friends
in trouble; he would still be kind with her if need be.

"I will go and look round, too," said Maheude, in her turn. "It's too
stupid."

She reopened the door after the young man and closed it violently,
leaving the others motionless and mute in the faint light of a
candle-end which Alzire had just lighted. Outside she stopped and
thought for a moment. Then she entered the Levaque's house.

"Tell me: I lent you a loaf the other day. Could you give it me back?"

But she stopped herself. What she saw was far from encouraging; the
house spoke of misery even more than her own.

The Levaque woman, with fixed eyes, was gazing into her burnt-out fire,
while Levaque, made drunk on his empty stomach by some nail-makers,
was sleeping on the table. With his back to the wall, Bouteloup was
mechanically rubbing his shoulders with the amazement of a good-natured
fellow who has eaten up his savings, and is astonished at having to
tighten his belt.

"A loaf! ah! my dear," replied the Levaque woman, "I wanted to borrow
another from you!"

Then, as her husband groaned with pain in his sleep, she pushed his
face against the table.

"Hold your row, bloody beast! So much the better if it burns your guts!
Instead of getting people to pay for your drinks, you ought to have
asked twenty sous from a friend."

She went on relieving herself by swearing, in the midst of this dirty
household, already abandoned so long that an unbearable smell was
exhaling from the floor. Everything might smash up, she didn't care a
hang! Her son, that rascal Bébert, had also disappeared since morning,
and she shouted that it would be a good riddance if he never came back.
Then she said that she would go to bed. At least she could get warm.
She hustled Bouteloup.

"Come along, up we go. The fire's out. No need to light the candle to
see the empty plates. Well, are you coming, Louis? I tell you that we
must go to bed. We can cuddle up together there, that's a comfort. And
let this damned drunkard die here of cold by himself!"

When she found herself outside again, Maheude struck resolutely across
the gardens towards Pierron's house. She heard laughter. As she knocked
there was sudden silence. It was a full minute before the door was
opened.

"What! is it you?" exclaimed Pierronne with affected surprise. "I
thought it was the doctor."

Without allowing her to speak, she went on, pointing to Pierron, who
was seated before a large coal fire:

"Ah! he makes no progress, he makes no progress at all. His face looks
all right; it's in his belly that it takes him. Then he must have
warmth. We burn all that we've got."

Pierron, in fact, looked very well; his complexion was good and his
flesh fat. It was in vain that he breathed hard in order to play the
sick man. Besides, as Maheude came in she perceived a strong smell
of rabbit; they had certainly put the dish out of the way. There
were crumbs strewed over the table, and in the very midst she saw a
forgotten bottle of wine.

"Mother has gone to Montsou to try and get a loaf," said Pierronne
again. "We are cooling our heels waiting for her."

But her voice choked; she had followed her neighbour's glance, and
her eyes also fell on the bottle. Immediately she began again, and
narrated the story. Yes, it was wine; the Piolaine people had brought
her that bottle for her man, who had been ordered by the doctor to take
claret. And her thankfulness poured forth in a stream. What good people
they were! The young lady especially; she was not proud, going into
workpeople's houses and distributing her charities herself.

"I see," said Maheude; "I know them."

Her heart ached at the idea that the good things always go to the least
poor. It was always so, and these Piolaine people had carried water to
the river. Why had she not seen them in the settlement? Perhaps, all
the same, she might have got something out of them.

"I came," she confessed at last, "to know if there was more going with
you than with us. Have you just a little vermicelli by way of loan?"

Pierronne expressed her grief noisily.

"Nothing at all, my dear. Not what you can call a grain of semolina. If
mother hasn't come back, it's because she hasn't succeeded. We must go
to bed supperless."

At this moment crying was heard from the cellar, and she grew angry and
struck her fist against the door. It was that gadabout Lydie, whom she
had shut up, she said, to punish her for not having returned until five
o'clock, after having been roaming about the whole day. One could no
longer keep her in order; she was constantly disappearing.

Maheude, however, remained standing; she could not make up her mind to
leave. This large fire filled her with a painful sensation of comfort;
the thought that they were eating there enlarged the void in her
stomach. Evidently they had sent away the old woman and shut up the
child, to blow themselves out with their rabbit. Ah! whatever people
might say, when a woman behaved ill, that brought luck to her house.

"Good night," she said, suddenly.

Outside night had come on, and the moon behind the clouds was lighting
up the earth with a dubious glow. Instead of traversing the gardens
again, Maheude went round, despairing, afraid to go home again.
But along the dead frontages all the doors smelled of famine and
sounded hollow. What was the good of knocking? There was wretchedness
everywhere. For weeks since they had had nothing to eat. Even the odour
of onion had gone, that strong odour which revealed the settlement from
afar across the country; now there was nothing but the smell of old
vaults, the dampness of holes in which nothing lives. Vague sounds were
dying out, stifled tears, lost oaths; and in the silence which slowly
grew heavier one could hear the sleep of hunger coming on, the collapse
of bodies thrown across beds in the nightmares of empty bellies.

As she passed before the church she saw a shadow slip rapidly by. A
gleam of hope made her hasten, for she had recognized the Montsou
priest, Abbé Joire, who said mass on Sundays at the settlement chapel.
No doubt he had just come out of the sacristy, where he had been called
to settle some affair. With rounded back he moved quickly on, a fat
meek man, anxious to live at peace with everybody. If he had come at
night it must have been in order not to compromise himself among the
miners. It was said, too, that he had just obtained promotion. He had
even been seen walking about with his successor, a lean man, with eyes
like live coals.

"Sir, sir!" stammered Maheude.

But he would not stop.

"Good night, good night, my good woman."

She found herself before her own door. Her legs would no longer carry
her, and she went in.

No one had stirred. Maheu still sat dejected on the edge of the table.
Old Bonnemort and the little ones were huddled together on the bench
for the sake of warmth. And they had not said a word, and the candle
had burnt so low that even light would soon fail them. At the sound of
the door the children turned their heads; but seeing that their mother
brought nothing back, they looked down on the ground again, repressing
the longing to cry, for fear of being scolded. Maheude fell back into
her place near the dying fire. They asked her no questions, and the
silence continued. All had understood, and they thought it useless to
weary themselves more by talking; they were now waiting, despairing and
without courage, in the last expectation that perhaps Étienne would
unearth help somewhere. The minutes went by, and at last they no longer
reckoned on this.

When Étienne reappeared, he held a cloth containing a dozen potatoes,
cooked but cold.

"That's all that I've found," he said.

With Mouquette also bread was wanting; it was her dinner which she had
forced him to take in this cloth, kissing him with all her heart.

"Thanks," he said to Maheude, who offered him his share; "I've eaten
over there."

It was not true, and he gloomily watched the children throw themselves
on the food. The father and mother also restrained themselves, in order
to leave more; but the old man greedily swallowed everything. They had
to take a potato away from him for Alzire.

Then Étienne said that he had heard news. The Company, irritated by the
obstinacy of the strikers, talked of giving back their certificates
to the compromised miners. Certainly, the Company was for war. And a
more serious rumour circulated: they boasted of having persuaded a
large number of men to go down again. On the next day the Victoire and
Feutry-Cantel would be complete; even at Madeleine and Mirou there
would be a third of the men. The Maheus were furious.

"By God!" shouted the father, "if there are traitors, we must settle
their account."

And standing up, yielding to the fury of his suffering:

"To-morrow evening, to the forest! Since they won't let us come to an
understanding at the Bon-Joyeux, we can be at home in the forest!"

This cry had aroused old Bonnemort, who had grown drowsy after his
gluttony. It was the old rallying-cry, the rendezvous where the miners
of old days used to plot their resistance to the king's soldiers.

"Yes, yes, to Vandame! I'm with you if you go there!"

Maheude made an energetic gesture.

"We will all go. That will finish these injustices and treacheries."

Étienne decided that the rendezvous should be announced to all the
settlements for the following evening. But the fire was dead, as with
the Levaques, and the candle suddenly went out. There was no more coal
and no more oil; they had to feel their way to bed in the intense cold
which contracted the skin. The little ones were crying.



CHAPTER VI


Jeanlin was now well and able to walk; but his legs had united so badly
that he limped on both the right and left sides, and moved with the
gait of a duck, though running as fast as formerly with the skill of a
mischievous and thieving animal.

On this evening, in the dusk on the Réquillart road, Jeanlin,
accompanied by his inseparable friends, Bébert and Lydie, was on the
watch. He had taken ambush in a vacant space, behind a paling opposite
an obscure grocery shop, situated at the corner of a lane. An old woman
who was nearly blind displayed there three or four sacks of lentils
and haricots, black with dust; and it was an ancient dried codfish,
hanging by the door and stained with fly-blows, to which his eyes were
directed. Twice already he had sent Bébert to unhook it. But each time
someone had appeared at the bend in the road. Always intruders in the
way, one could not attend to one's affairs.

A gentleman went by on horseback, and the children flattened themselves
at the bottom of the paling, for they recognized M. Hennebeau. Since
the strike he was often thus seen along the roads, riding alone amid
the rebellious settlements, ascertaining, with quiet courage, the
condition of the country. And never had a stone whistled by his ears;
he only met men who were silent and slow to salute him; most often he
came upon lovers, who cared nothing for politics and took their fill
of pleasure in holes and corners. He passed by on his trotting mare
with head directed straight forward, so as to disturb nobody, while his
heart was swelling with an unappeased desire amid this gormandizing of
free love. He distinctly saw these small rascals, the little boys on
the little girl in a heap. Even the youngsters were already amusing
themselves in their misery! His eyes grew moist, and he disappeared,
sitting stiffly on his saddle, with his frock-coat buttoned up in a
military manner.

"Damned luck!" said Jeanlin. "This will never finish. Go on, Bébert!
Hang on to its tail!"

But two men once more appeared, and the child again stifled an oath
when he heard the voice of his brother Zacharie narrating to Mouquet
how he had discovered a two-franc piece sewn into one of his wife's
petticoats. They both grinned with satisfaction, slapping each other on
the shoulder. Mouquet proposed a game of crosse for the next day; they
would leave the Avantage at two o'clock, and go to the Montoire side,
near Marchiennes. Zacharie agreed. What was the good of bothering over
the strike? as well amuse oneself, since there's nothing to do. And
they turned the corner of the road, when Étienne, who was coming along
the canal, stopped them and began to talk.

"Are they going to bed here?" said Jeanlin, in exasperation. "Nearly
night; the old woman will be taking in her sacks."

Another miner came down towards Réquillart. Étienne went off with him,
and as they passed the paling the child heard them speak of the forest;
they had been obliged to put off the rendezvous to the following
day, for fear of not being able to announce it in one day to all the
settlements.

"I say, there," he whispered to his two mates, "the big affair is for
to-morrow. We'll go, eh? We can get off in the afternoon."

And the road being at last free, he sent Bébert off.

"Courage! hang on to its tail. And look out! the old woman's got her
broom."

Fortunately the night had grown dark. Bébert, with a leap, hung on to
the cod so that the string broke. He ran away, waving it like a kite,
followed by the two others, all three galloping. The woman came out
of her shop in astonishment, without understanding or being able to
distinguish this band now lost in the darkness.

These scoundrels had become the terror of the country. They gradually
spread themselves over it like a horde of savages. At first they had
been satisfied with the yard at the Voreux, tumbling into the stock of
coal, from which they would emerge looking like Negroes, playing at
hide-and-seek amid the supply of wood, in which they lost themselves
as in the depths of a virgin forest. Then they had taken the pit-bank
by assault; they would seat themselves on it and slide down the bare
portions still boiling with interior fires; they glided among the
briers in the older parts, hiding for the whole day, occupied in the
quiet little games of mischievous mice. And they were constantly
enlarging their conquests, scuffling among the piles of bricks until
blood came, running about the fields and eating without bread all sorts
of milky herbs, searching the banks of the canals to take fish from the
mud and swallow them raw and pushing still farther, they travelled for
kilometres as far as the thickets of Vandame, under which they gorged
themselves with strawberries in the spring, with nuts and bilberries in
summer. Soon the immense plain belonged to them.

What drove them thus from Montsou to Marchiennes, constantly on the
roads with the eyes of young wolves, was the growing love of plunder.
Jeanlin remained the captain of these expeditions, leading the troop
on to all sorts of prey, ravaging the onion fields, pillaging the
orchards, attacking shop windows. In the country, people accused the
miners on strike, and talked of a vast organized band. One day, even,
he had forced Lydie to steal from her mother, and made her bring him
two dozen sticks of barley-sugar, which Pierronne kept in a bottle
on one of the boards in her window; and the little girl, who was
well beaten, had not betrayed him because she trembled so before his
authority. The worst was that he always gave himself the lion's share.
Bébert also had to bring him the booty, happy if the captain did not
hit him and keep it all.

For some time Jeanlin had abused his authority. He would beat Lydie as
one beats one's lawful wife, and he profited by Bébert's credulity to
send him on unpleasant adventures, amused at making a fool of this big
boy, who was stronger than himself, and could have knocked him over
with a blow of his fist. He felt contempt for both of them and treated
them as slaves, telling them that he had a princess for his mistress
and that they were unworthy to appear before her. And, in fact, during
the past week he would suddenly disappear at the end of a road or a
turning in a path, no matter where it might be, after having ordered
them with a terrible air to go back to the settlement. But first he
would pocket the booty.

This was what happened on the present occasion.

"Give it up," he said, snatching the cod from his mate's hands when
they stopped, all three, at a bend in the road near Réquillart.

Bébert protested.

"I want some, you know. I took it."

"Eh! what!" he cried. "You'll have some if I give you some. Not
to-night, sure enough; to-morrow, if there's any left."

He pushed Lydie, and placed both of them in line like soldiers
shouldering arms. Then, passing behind them:

"Now, you must stay there five minutes without turning. By God! if you
do turn, there will be beasts that will eat you up. And then you will
go straight back, and if Bébert touches Lydie on the way, I shall know
it and I shall hit you."

Then he disappeared in the shadow, so lightly that the sound of his
naked feet could not be heard. The two children remained motionless
for the five minutes without looking round, for fear of receiving a
blow from the invisible. Slowly a great affection had grown up between
them in their common terror. He was always thinking of taking her and
pressing her very tight between his arms, as he had seen others do and
she, too, would have liked it, for it would have been a change for
her to be so nicely caressed. But neither of them would have allowed
themselves to disobey. When they went away, although the night was very
dark, they did not even kiss each other; they walked side by side,
tender and despairing, certain that if they touched one another the
captain would strike them from behind.

Étienne, at the same hour, had entered Réquillart. The evening before
Mouquette had begged him to return, and he returned, ashamed, feeling
an inclination which he refused to acknowledge, for this girl who
adored him like a Christ. It was, besides, with the intention of
breaking it off. He would see her, he would explain to her that she
ought no longer to pursue him, on account of the mates. It was not a
time for pleasure; it was dishonest to amuse oneself thus when people
were dying of hunger. And not having found her at home, he had decided
to wait and watch the shadows of the passers-by.

Beneath the ruined steeple the old shaft opened, half blocked up.
Above the black hole a beam stood erect, and with a fragment of roof
at the top it had the profile of a gallows; in the broken walling of
the curbs stood two trees--a mountain ash and a plane--which seemed
to grow from the depths of the earth. It was a corner of abandoned
wildness, the grassy and fibrous entry of a gulf, embarrassed with old
wood, planted with hawthorns and sloe-trees, which were peopled in the
spring by warblers in their nests. Wishing to avoid the great expense
of keeping it up, the Company, for the last ten years, had proposed to
fill up this dead pit; but they were waiting to install an air-shaft
in the Voreux, for the ventilation furnace of the two pits, which
communicated, was placed at the foot of Réquillart, of which the former
winding-shaft served as a conduit. They were content to consolidate the
tubbing by beams placed across, preventing extraction, and they had
neglected the upper galleries to watch only over the lower gallery, in
which blazed the furnace, the enormous coal fire, with so powerful a
draught that the rush of air produced the wind of a tempest from one
end to the other of the neighbouring mine. As a precaution, in order
that they could still go up and down, the order had been given to
furnish the shaft with ladders; only, as no one took charge of them,
the ladders were rotting with dampness, and in some places had already
given way. Above, a large brier stopped the entry of the passage, and,
as the first ladder had lost some rungs, it was necessary, in order to
reach it, to hang on to a root of the mountain ash, and then to take
one's chance and drop into the blackness.

Étienne was waiting patiently, hidden behind a bush, when he heard a
long rustling among the branches. He thought at first that it was the
scared flight of a snake. But the sudden gleam of a match astonished
him, and he was stupefied on recognizing Jeanlin, who was lighting a
candle and burying himself in the earth. He was seized with curiosity,
and approached the hole; the child had disappeared, and a faint gleam
came from the second ladder. Étienne hesitated a moment, and then let
himself go, holding on to the roots. He thought for a moment that he
was about to fall down the whole five hundred and eighty metres of
the mine, but at last he felt a rung, and descended gently. Jeanlin
had evidently heard nothing. Étienne constantly saw the light sinking
beneath him, while the little one's shadow, colossal and disturbing,
danced with the deformed gait of his distorted limbs. He kicked his
legs about with the skill of a monkey, catching on with hands, feet,
or chin where the rungs were wanting. Ladders, seven metres in length,
followed one another, some still firm, others shaky, yielding and
almost broken; the steps were narrow and green, so rotten that one
seemed to walk in moss; and as one went down the heat grew suffocating,
the heat of an oven proceeding from the air-shaft which was,
fortunately, not very active now the strike was on, or when the furnace
devoured its five thousand kilograms of coal a day, one could not have
risked oneself here without scorching one's hair.

"What a dammed little toad!" exclaimed Étienne in a stifled voice;
"where the devil is he going to?"

Twice he had nearly fallen. His feet slid on the damp wood. If he had
only had a candle like the child! but he struck himself every minute;
he was only guided by the vague gleam that fled beneath him. He had
already reached the twentieth ladder, and the descent still continued.
Then he counted them: twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, and he
still went down and down. His head seemed to be swelling with the heat,
and he thought that he was falling into a furnace. At last he reached a
landing-place, and he saw the candle going off along a gallery. Thirty
ladders, that made about two hundred and ten metres.

"Is he going to drag me about long?" he thought. "He must be going to
bury himself in the stable."

But on the left, the path which led to the stable was closed by a
landslip. The journey began again, now more painful and more dangerous.
Frightened bats flew about and clung to the roof of the gallery. He
had to hasten so as not to lose sight of the light; only where the
child passed with ease, with the suppleness of a serpent, he could
not glide through without bruising his limbs. This gallery, like all
the older passages, was narrow, and grew narrower every day from the
constant fall of soil; at certain places it was a mere tube which would
eventually be effaced. In this strangling labour the torn and broken
wood became a peril, threatening to saw into his flesh, or to run him
through with the points of splinters, sharp as swords. He could only
advance with precaution, on his knees or belly, feeling in the darkness
before him. Suddenly a band of rats stamped over him, running from his
neck to his feet in their galloping flight.

"Blast it all! haven't we got to the end yet?" he grumbled, with aching
back and out of breath.

They were there. At the end of a kilometre the tube enlarged, they
reached a part of the gallery which was admirably preserved. It was
the end of the old haulage passage cut across the bed like a natural
grotto. He was obliged to stop, he saw the child afar, placing his
candle between two stones, and putting himself at ease with the quiet
and relieved air of a man who is glad to be at home again. This
gallery-end was completely changed into a comfortable dwelling. In
a corner on the ground a pile of hay made a soft couch; on some old
planks, placed like a table, there were bread, potatoes, and bottles of
gin already opened; it was a real brigand's cavern, with booty piled up
for weeks, even useless booty like soap and blacking, stolen for the
pleasure of stealing. And the child, quite alone in the midst of this
plunder, was enjoying it like a selfish brigand.

"I say, then, is this how you make fun of people?" cried Étienne, when
he had breathed for a moment. "You come and gorge yourself here, when
we are dying of hunger up above?"

Jeanlin, astounded, was trembling. But recognizing the young man, he
quickly grew calm.

"Will you come and dine with me?" he said at last. "Eh? a bit of
grilled cod? You shall see."

He had not let go his cod, and he began to scrape off the fly-blows
properly with a fine new knife, one of those little dagger knives, with
bone handles, on which mottoes are inscribed. This one simply bore the
word "Amour."

"You have a fine knife," remarked Étienne.

"It's a present from Lydie," replied Jeanlin, who neglected to add
that Lydie had stolen it, by his orders, from a huckster at Montsou,
stationed before the Tête-Coupée Bar.

Then, as he still scraped, he added proudly:

"Isn't it comfortable in my house? It's a bit warmer than up above, and
it feels a lot better!"

Étienne had seated himself, and was amused in making him talk. He was
no longer angry, he felt interested in this debauched child, who was
so brave and so industrious in his vices. And, in fact, he tasted
a certain comfort in the bottom of this hole; the heat was not too
great, an equal temperature reigned here at all seasons, the warmth of
a bath, while the rough December wind was chapping the skins of the
miserable people on the earth. As they grew old, the galleries became
purified from noxious gases, all the fire-damp had gone, and one only
smelled now the odour of old fermented wood, a subtle ethereal odour,
as if sharpened with a dash of cloves. This wood, besides, had become
curious to look at, with a yellowish pallor of marble, fringed with
whitish thread lace, flaky vegetations which seemed to drape it with an
embroidery of silk and pearls. In other places the timber was bristling
with toadstools. And there were flights of white butterflies, snowy
flies and spiders, a decolorized population for ever ignorant of the
sun.

"Then you're not afraid?" asked Étienne.

Jeanlin looked at him in astonishment.

"Afraid of what? I am quite alone."

But the cod was at last scraped. He lighted a little fire of wood,
brought out the pan and grilled it. Then he cut a loaf into two. It was
a terribly salt feast, but exquisite all the same for strong stomachs.

Étienne had accepted his share.

"I am not astonished you get fat, while we are all growing lean. Do you
know that it is beastly to stuff yourself like this? And the others?
you don't think of them!"

"Oh! why are the others such fools?"

"Well, you're right to hide yourself, for if your father knew you stole
he would settle you."

"What! when the bourgeois are stealing from us! It's you who are always
saying so. If I nabbed this loaf at Maigrat's you may be pretty sure
it's a loaf he owed us."

The young man was silent, with his mouth full, and felt troubled. He
looked at him, with his muzzle, his green eyes, his large ears, a
degenerate abortion, with an obscure intelligence and savage cunning,
slowly slipping back into the animality of old. The mine which had made
him had just finished him by breaking his legs.

"And Lydie?" asked Étienne again; "do you bring her here sometimes?"

Jeanlin laughed contemptuously.

"The little one? Ah, no, not I; women blab."

And he went on laughing, filled with immense disdain for Lydie and
Bébert. Who had ever seen such boobies? To think that they swallowed
all his humbug, and went away with empty hands while he ate the cod in
this warm place, tickled his sides with amusement. Then he concluded,
with the gravity of a little philosopher:

"Much better be alone, then there's no falling out."

Étienne had finished his bread. He drank a gulp of the gin. For a
moment he asked himself if he ought not to make a bad return for
Jeanlin's hospitality by bringing him up to daylight by the ear, and
forbidding him to plunder any more by the threat of telling everything
to his father. But as he examined this deep retreat, an idea occurred
to him. Who knows if there might not be need for it, either for mates
or for himself, in case things should come to the worst up above! He
made the child swear not to sleep out, as had sometimes happened when
he forgot himself in his hay, and taking a candle-end, he went away
first, leaving him to pursue quietly his domestic affairs.

Mouquette, seated on a beam in spite of the great cold, had grown
desperate in waiting for him. When she saw him she leapt on to his
neck; and it was as though he had plunged a knife into her heart when
he said that he wished to see her no more. Good God! why? Did she not
love him enough? Fearing to yield to the desire to enter with her, he
drew her towards the road, and explained to her as gently as possible
that she was compromising him in the eyes of his mates, that she was
compromising the political cause. She was astonished; what had that
got to do with politics? At last the thought occurred to her that
he blushed at being seen with her. She was not wounded, however; it
was quite natural; and she proposed that he should rebuff her before
people, so as to seem to have broken with her. But he would see her
just once sometimes. In distraction she implored him; she swore to keep
out of sight; she would not keep him five minutes. He was touched,
but still refused. It was necessary. Then, as he left her, he wished
at least to kiss her. They had gradually reached the first houses of
Montsou, and were standing with their arms round one another beneath a
large round moon, when a woman passed near them with a sudden start, as
though she had knocked against a stone.

"Who is that?" asked Étienne, anxiously.

"It's Catherine," replied Mouquette. "She's coming back from Jean-Bart."

The woman now was going away, with lowered head and feeble limbs,
looking very tired. And the young man gazed at her, in despair at
having been seen by her, his heart aching with an unreasonable remorse.
Had she not been with a man? Had she not made him suffer with the same
suffering here, on this Réquillart road, when she had given herself to
that man? But, all the same, he was grieved to have done the like to
her.

"Shall I tell you what it is?" whispered Mouquette, in tears, as she
left him. "If you don't want me it's because you want someone else."

On the next day the weather was superb; it was one of those clear
frosty days, the beautiful winter days when the hard earth rings like
crystal beneath the feet. Jeanlin had gone off at one o'clock, but
he had to wait for Bébert behind the church, and they nearly set out
without Lydie, whose mother had again shut her up in the cellar, and
only now liberated her to put a basket on her arm, telling her that
if she did not bring it back full of dandelions she should be shut up
with the rats all night long. She was frightened, therefore, and wished
to go at once for salad. Jeanlin dissuaded her; they would see later
on. For a long time Poland, Rasseneur's big rabbit, had attracted his
attention. He was passing before the Avantage when, just then, the
rabbit came out on to the road. With a leap he seized her by the ears,
stuffed her into the little girl's basket, and all three rushed away.
They would amuse themselves finely by making her run like a dog as far
as the forest.

But they stopped to gaze at Zacharie and Mouquet, who, after having
drunk a glass with two other mates, had begun their big game of
crosse. The stake was a new cap and a red handkerchief, deposited
with Rasseneur. The four players, two against two, were bidding for
the first turn from the Voreux to the Paillot farm, nearly three
kilometres; and it was Zacharie who won, with seven strokes, while
Mouquet required eight. They had placed the ball, the little boxwood
egg, on the pavement with one end up. Each was holding his crosse, the
mallet with its bent iron, long handle, and tight-strung network. Two
o'clock struck as they set out. Zacharie, in a masterly manner, at his
first stroke, composed of a series of three, sent the ball more than
four hundred yards across the beetroot fields; for it was forbidden to
play in the villages and on the streets, where people might be killed.
Mouquet, who was also a good player, sent off the ball with so vigorous
an arm that his single stroke brought the ball a hundred and fifty
metres behind. And the game went on, backwards and forwards, always
running, their feet bruised by the frozen ridges of the ploughed fields.

At first Jeanlin, Bébert, and Lydie had trotted behind the players,
delighted with their vigorous strokes. Then they remembered Poland,
whom they were shaking up in the basket; and, leaving the game in the
open country, they took out the rabbit, inquisitive to see how fast
she could run. She went off, and they fled after her; it was a chase
lasting an hour at full speed, with constant turns, with shouts to
frighten her, and arms opened and closed on emptiness. If she had not
been at the beginning of pregnancy they would never have caught her
again.

As they were panting the sound of oaths made them turn their heads.
They had just come upon the crosse party again, and Zacharie had nearly
split open his brother's skull. The players were now at their fourth
turn. From the Paillot farm they had gone off to the Quatre-Chemins,
then from the Quatre-Chemins to Montoire; and now they were going in
six strokes from Montoire to Pré-des-Vaches. That made two leagues and
a half in an hour; and, besides, they had had drinks at the Estaminet
Vincent and at the Trois-Sages Bar. Mouquet this time was ahead. He had
two more strokes to play, and his victory was certain, when Zacharie,
grinning as he availed himself of his privilege, played with so much
skill that the ball rolled into a deep pit. Mouquet's partner could
not get it out; it was a disaster. All four shouted; the party was
excited, for they were neck to neck; it was necessary to begin again.
From the Pré-des-Vaches it was not two kilometres to the point of
Herbes-Rousses, in five strokes. There they would refresh themselves at
Lerenard's.

But Jeanlin had an idea. He let them go on, and pulled out of his
pocket a piece of string which he tied to one of Poland's legs, the
left hind leg. And it was very amusing. The rabbit ran before the three
young rascals, waddling along in such an extraordinary manner that they
had never laughed so much before. Afterwards they fastened it round her
neck, and let her run off; and, as she grew tired, they dragged her on
her belly or on her back, just like a little carriage. That lasted for
more than an hour. She was moaning when they quickly put her back into
the basket, near the wood at Cruchot, on hearing the players whose game
they had once more came across.

Zacharie, Mouquet, and the two others were getting over the kilometres,
with no other rest than the time for a drink at all the inns which they
had fixed on as their goals. From the Herbes-Rousses they had gone on
to Buchy, then to Croix-de-Pierre, then to Chamblay. The earth rang
beneath the helter-skelter of their feet, rushing untiringly after the
ball, which bounded over the ice; the weather was good, they did not
fall in, they only ran the risk of breaking their legs. In the dry air
the great crosse blows exploded like firearms. Their muscular hands
grasped the strung handle; their entire bodies were bent forward, as
though to slay an ox. And this went on for hours, from one end of the
plain to the other, over ditches and hedges and the slopes of the road,
the low walls of the enclosures. One needed to have good bellows in
one's chest and iron hinges in one's knees. The pikemen thus rubbed
off the rust of the mine with impassioned zeal. There were some so
enthusiastic at twenty-five that they could do ten leagues. At forty
they played no more; they were too heavy.

Five o'clock struck; the twilight was already coming on. One more turn
to the Forest of Vandame, to decide who had gained the cap and the
handkerchief. And Zacharie joked, with his chaffing indifference for
politics; it would be fine to tumble down over there in the midst of
the mates. As to Jeanlin, ever since leaving the settlement he had
been aiming at the forest, though apparently only scouring the fields.
With an indignant gesture he threatened Lydie, who was full of remorse
and fear, and talked of going back to the Voreux to gather dandelions.
Were they going to abandon the meeting? he wanted to know what the old
people would say. He pushed Bébert, and proposed to enliven the end of
the journey as far as the trees by detaching Poland and pursuing her
with stones. His real idea was to kill her; he wanted to take her off
and eat her at the bottom of his hole at Réquillart. The rabbit ran
ahead, with nose in the air and ears back; a stone grazed her back,
another cut her tail, and, in spite of the growing darkness, she would
have been done for if the young rogues had not noticed Étienne and
Maheu standing in the middle of a glade. They threw themselves on the
animal in desperation, and put her back in the basket. Almost at the
same minute Zacharie, Mouquet, and the two others, with their last blow
at crosse, drove the ball within a few metres of the glade. They all
came into the midst of the rendezvous.

Through the whole country, by the roads and pathways of the flat plain,
ever since twilight, there had been a long procession, a rustling of
silent shadows, moving separately or in groups towards the violet
thickets of the forest. Every settlement was emptied, the women and
children themselves set out as if for a walk beneath the great clear
sky. Now the roads were growing dark; this walking crowd, all gliding
towards the same goal, could no longer be distinguished. But one felt
it, the confused tramping moved by one soul. Between the hedges, among
the bushes, there was only a light rustling, a vague rumour of the
voices of the night.

M. Hennebeau, who was at this hour returning home mounted on his mare,
listened to these vague sounds. He had met couples, long rows of
strollers, on this beautiful winter night. More lovers, who were going
to take their pleasure, mouth to mouth, behind the walls. Was it not
what he always met, girls tumbled over at the bottom of every ditch,
beggars who crammed themselves with the only joy that cost nothing?
And these fools complained of life, when they could take their supreme
fill of this happiness of love! Willingly would he have starved as they
did if he could begin life again with a woman who would give herself
to him on a heap of stones, with all her strength and all her heart.
His misfortune was without consolation, and he envied these wretches.
With lowered head he went back, riding his horse at a slackened pace,
rendered desperate by these long sounds, lost in the depth of the black
country, in which he heard only kisses.



CHAPTER VII


It was the Plan-des-Dames, that vast glade just opened up by the
felling of trees. It spread out in a gentle slope, surrounded by
tall thickets and superb beeches with straight regular trunks, which
formed a white colonnade patched with green lichens; fallen giants
were also lying in the grass, while on the left a mass of logs formed
a geometrical cube. The cold was sharpening with the twilight and the
frozen moss crackled beneath the feet. There was black darkness on the
earth while the tall branches showed against the pale sky, where a full
moon coming above the horizon would soon extinguish the stars.

Nearly three thousand colliers had come to the rendezvous, a swarming
crowd of men, women, and children, gradually filling the glade and
spreading out afar beneath the trees. Late arrivals were still coming
up, a flood of heads drowned in shadow and stretching as far as the
neighbouring copses. A rumbling arose from them, like that of a storm,
in this motionless and frozen forest.

At the top, dominating the slope, Étienne stood with Rasseneur and
Maheu. A quarrel had broken out, one could hear their voices in
sudden bursts. Near them some men were listening: Levaque, with
clenched fists; Pierron, turning his back and much annoyed that he
had no longer been able to feign a fever. There were also Father
Bonnemort and old Mouque, seated side by side on a stump, lost in deep
meditation. Then behind were the chaffers, Zacharie, Mouquet, and
others who had come to make fun of the thing; while gathered together
in a very different spirit the women in a group were as serious as
if at church. Maheude silently shook her head at the Levaque woman's
muttered oaths. Philoméne was coughing, her bronchitis having come back
with the winter. Only Mouquette was showing her teeth with laughter,
amused at the way in which Mother Brulé was abusing her daughter, an
unnatural creature who had sent her away that she might gorge herself
with rabbit, a creature who had sold herself and who fattened on her
man's cowardice. And Jeanlin had planted himself on the pile of wood,
hoisting up Lydie and making Bébert follow him, all three higher up in
the air than any one else.

The quarrel was raised by Rasseneur, who wished to proceed formally
to the election of officers. He was enraged by his defeat at the
Bon-Joyeux, and had sworn to have his revenge, for he flattered himself
that he could regain his old authority when he was once face to face,
not with the delegates, but with the miners themselves. Étienne was
disgusted, and thought the idea of officers was ridiculous in this
forest. They ought to act in a revolutionary fashion, like savages,
since they were tracked like wolves.

As the dispute threatened to drag on, he took possession of the crowd
at once by jumping on to the trunk of a tree and shouting:

"Comrades! comrades!"

The confused roar of the crowd died down into a long sigh, while Maheu
stifled Rasseneur's protestations. Étienne went on in a loud voice.

"Comrades, since they forbid us to speak, since they send the police
after us as if we were robbers, we have come to talk here! Here we are
free, we are at home. No one can silence us any more than they can
silence the birds and beasts!"

A thunder of cries and exclamations responded to him.

"Yes, yes! the forest is ours, we can talk here. Go on."

Then Étienne stood for a moment motionless on the tree-trunk. The moon,
still beneath the horizon, only lit up the topmost branches, and the
crowd, remaining in the darkness, stood above it at the top of the
slope like a bar of shadow.

He raised his arm with a slow movement and began. But his voice was not
fierce; he spoke in the cold tones of a simple envoy of the people,
who was rendering his account. He was delivering the discourse which
the commissioner of police had cut short at the Bon-Joyeux; and he
began by a rapid history of the strike, affecting a certain scientific
eloquence--facts, nothing but facts. At first he spoke of his dislike
to the strike; the miners had not desired it, it was the management
which had provoked it with the new timbering tariff. Then he recalled
the first step taken by the delegates in going to the manager, the
bad faith of the directors; and, later on, the second step, the tardy
concession, the ten centimes given up, after the attempt to rob them.
Now he showed by figures the exhaustion of the Provident Fund, and
pointed out the use that had been made of the help sent, briefly
excusing the International, Pluchart and the others, for not being able
to do more for them in the midst of the cares of their conquest of the
world. So the situation was getting worse every day; the Company was
giving back certificates and threatening to hire men from Belgium;
besides, it was intimidating the weak, and had forced a certain number
of miners to go down again. He preserved his monotonous voice, as if to
insist on the bad news; he said that hunger was victorious, that hope
was dead, and that the struggle had reached the last feverish efforts
of courage. And then he suddenly concluded, without raising his voice:

"It is in these circumstances, mates, that you have to take a decision
to-night. Do you want the strike to go on? and if so, what do you
expect to do to beat the Company?"

A deep silence fell from the starry sky. The crowd, which could not be
seen, was silent in the night beneath these words which choked every
heart, and a sigh of despair could be heard through the trees.

But Étienne was already continuing, with a change in his voice. It
was no longer the secretary of the association who was speaking; it
was the chief of a band, the apostle who was bringing truth. Could it
be that any were cowardly enough to go back on their word? What! They
were to suffer in vain for a month, and then to go back to the pits,
with lowered heads, so that the everlasting wretchedness might begin
over again! Would it not be better to die at once in the effort to
destroy this tyranny of capital, which was starving the worker? Always
to submit to hunger up to the moment when hunger will again throw the
calmest into revolt, was it not a foolish game which could not go on
for ever? And he pointed to the exploited miners, bearing alone the
disasters of every crisis, reduced to go without food as soon as the
necessities of competition lowered net prices. No, the timbering tariff
could not be accepted; it was only a disguised effort to economize on
the Company's part; they wanted to rob every man of an hour's work a
day. It was too much this time; the day was coming when the miserable,
pushed to extremity, would deal justice.

He stood with his arms in the air. At the word "justice" the crowd,
shaken by a long shudder, broke out into applause which rolled along
with the sound of dry leaves. Voices cried:

"Justice! it is time! Justice!"

Gradually Étienne grew heated. He had not Rasseneur's easy flowing
abundance. Words often failed him, he had to force his phrases,
bringing them out with an effort which he emphasized by a movement of
his shoulders. Only in these continual shocks he came upon familiar
images which seized on his audience by their energy; while his
workman's gestures, his elbows in and then extended, with his fists
thrust out, his jaw suddenly advanced as if to bite, had also an
extraordinary effect on his mates. They all said that if he was not big
he made himself heard.

"The wage system is a new form of slavery," he began again, in a more
sonorous voice. "The mine ought to belong to the miner, as the sea
belongs to the fisherman, and the earth to the peasant. Do you see? The
mine belongs to you, to all of you who, for a century, have paid for it
with so much blood and misery!"

He boldly entered on obscure questions of law, and lost himself in the
difficulties of the special regulations concerning mines. The subsoil,
like the soil, belonged to the nation: only an odious privilege gave
the monopoly of it to the Companies; all the more since, at Montsou,
the pretended legality of the concession was complicated by treaties
formerly made with the owners of the old fiefs, according to the
ancient custom of Hainault. The miners, then, had only to reconquer
their property; and with extended hands he indicated the whole country
beyond the forest. At this moment the moon, which had risen above the
horizon, lit him up as it glided from behind the high branches. When
the crowd, which was still in shadow, saw him thus, white with light,
distributing fortune with his open hands, they applauded anew by
prolonged clapping.

"Yes, yes, he's right. Bravo!"

Then Étienne trotted out his favourite subject, the assumption of the
instruments of production by the collectivity, as he kept on saying
in a phrase the pedantry of which greatly pleased him. At the present
time his evolution was completed. Having set out with the sentimental
fraternity of the novice and the need for reforming the wage system, he
had reached the political idea of its suppression. Since the meeting
at the Bon-Joyeux his collectivism, still humanitarian and without a
formula, had stiffened into a complicated programme which he discussed
scientifically, article by article. First, he affirmed that freedom
could only be obtained by the destruction of the state. Then, when the
people had obtained possession of the government, reforms would begin:
return to the primitive commune, substitution of an equal and free
family for the moral and oppressive family; absolute equality, civil,
political, and economic; individual independence guaranteed, thanks
to the possession of the integral product of the instruments of work;
finally, free vocational education, paid for by the collectivity. This
led to the total reconstruction of the old rotten society; he attacked
marriage, the right of bequest, he regulated every one's fortune, he
threw down the iniquitous monument of the dead centuries with a great
movement of his arm, always the same movement, the movement of the
reaper who is cutting down a ripe harvest. And then with the other hand
he reconstructed; he built up the future humanity, the edifice of truth
and justice rising in the dawn of the twentieth century. In this state
of mental tension reason trembled, and only the sectarian's fixed idea
was left. The scruples of sensibility and of good sense were lost;
nothing seemed easier than the realization of this new world. He had
foreseen everything; he spoke of it as of a machine which he could put
together in two hours, and he stuck at neither fire nor blood.

"Our turn is come," he broke out for the last time. "Now it is for us
to have power and wealth!"

The cheering rolled up to him from the depths of the forest. The moon
now whitened the whole of the glade, and cut into living waves the sea
of heads, as far as the dimly visible copses in the distance between
the great grey trunks. And in the icy air there was a fury of faces,
of gleaming eyes, of open mouths, a rut of famishing men, women, and
children, let loose on the just pillage of the ancient wealth they had
been deprived of. They no longer felt the cold, these burning words
had warmed them to the bone. Religious exaltation raised them from the
earth, a fever of hope like that of the Christians of the early Church
awaiting the near coming of justice. Many obscure phrases had escaped
them, they could not properly understand this technical and abstract
reasoning; but the very obscurity and abstraction still further
enlarged the field of promises and lifted them into a dazzling region.
What a dream! to be masters, to suffer no more, to enjoy at last!

"That's it, by God! it's our turn now! Down with the exploiters."

The women were delirious; Maheude, losing her calmness, was seized
with the vertigo of hunger, the Levaque woman shouted, old Brulé,
carried out of herself, was brandishing her witch-like arms, Philoméne
was shaken by a spasm of coughing, and Mouquette was so excited that
she cried out words of tenderness to the orator. Among the men,
Maheu was won over and shouted with anger, between Pierron who was
trembling and Levaque who was talking too much; while the chaffers,
Zacharie and Mouquet, though trying to make fun of things, were feeling
uncomfortable and were surprised that their mate could talk on so long
without having a drink. But on top of the pile of wood, Jeanlin was
making more noise than any one, egging on Bébert and Lydie and shaking
the basket in which Poland lay.

The clamour began again. Étienne was enjoying the intoxication of his
popularity. He held power, as it were, materialized in these three
thousand breasts, whose hearts he could move with a word. Souvarine,
if he had cared to come, would have applauded his ideas so far as he
recognized them, pleased with his pupil's progress in anarchism and
satisfied with the programme, except the article on education, a relic
of silly sentimentality, for men needed to be dipped in a bath of holy
and salutary ignorance. As to Rasseneur, he shrugged his shoulders with
contempt and anger.

"You shall let me speak," he shouted to Étienne.

The latter jumped from the tree-trunk.

"Speak, we shall see if they'll hear you."

Already Rasseneur had replaced him, and with a gesture demanded
silence. But the noise did not cease; his name went round from the
first ranks, who had recognized him, to the last, lost beneath the
beeches, and they refused to hear him; he was an overturned idol, the
mere sight of him angered his old disciples. His facile elocution,
his flowing, good-natured speech, which had so long charmed them, was
now treated like warm gruel made to put cowards to sleep. In vain he
talked through the noise, trying to take up again his discourse of
conciliation, the impossibility of changing the world by a stroke of
law, the necessity of allowing the social evolution time to accomplish
itself; they joked him, they hissed him; his defeat at the Bon-Joyeux
was now beyond repair. At last they threw handfuls of frozen moss at
him, and a woman cried in a shrill voice:

"Down with the traitor!"

He explained that the miner could not be the proprietor of the mine, as
the weaver is of his loom, and he said that he preferred sharing in the
benefits, the interested worker becoming the child of the house.

"Down with the traitor!" repeated a thousand voices, while stones began
to whistle by.

Then he turned pale, and despair filled his eyes with tears. His whole
existence was crumbling down; twenty years of ambitious comradeship
were breaking down beneath the ingratitude of the crowd. He came down
from the tree-trunk, with no strength to go on, struck to the heart.

"That makes you laugh," he stammered, addressing the triumphant
Étienne. "Good! I hope your turn will come. It will come, I tell you!"

And as if to reject all responsibility for the evils which he foresaw,
he made a large gesture, and went away alone across the country, pale
and silent.

Hoots arose, and then they were surprised to see Father Bonnemort
standing on the trunk and about to speak in the midst of the tumult.
Up till now Mouque and he had remained absorbed, with that air that
they always had of reflecting on former things. No doubt he was
yielding to one of those sudden crises of garrulity which sometimes
made the past stir in him so violently that recollections rose and
flowed from his lips for hours at a time. There was deep silence, and
they listened to this old man, who was like a pale spectre beneath
the moon, and as he narrated things without any immediate relation
with the discussion--long histories which no one could understand--the
impression was increased. He was talking of his youth; he described
the death of his two uncles who were crushed at the Voreux; then he
turned to the inflammation of the lungs which had carried off his
wife. He kept to his main idea, however: things had never gone well
and never would go well. Thus in the forest five hundred of them had
come together because the king would not lessen the hours of work; but
he stopped short, and began to tell of another strike--he had seen so
many! They all broke out under these trees, here at the Plan-des-Dames,
lower down at the Charbonnerie, still farther towards the Saut-du-Loup.
Sometimes it froze, sometimes it was hot. One evening it had rained so
much that they had gone back again without being able to say anything,
and the king's soldiers came up and it finished with volleys of
musketry.

"We raised our hands like this, and we swore not to go back again. Ah!
I have sworn; yes, I have sworn!"

The crowd listened gapingly, feeling disturbed, when Étienne, who had
watched the scene, jumped on to the fallen tree, keeping the old man
at his side. He had just recognized Chaval among their friends in the
first row. The idea that Catherine must be there had roused a new
ardour within him, the desire to be applauded in her presence.

"Mates, you have heard; this is one of our old men, and this is what he
has suffered, and what our children will suffer if we don't have done
with the robbers and butchers."

He was terrible; never had he spoken so violently. With one arm he
supported old Bonnemort, exhibiting him as a banner of misery and
mourning, and crying for vengeance. In a few rapid phrases he went
back to the first Maheu. He showed the whole family used up at the
mine, devoured by the Company, hungrier than ever after a hundred
years of work; and contrasting with the Maheus he pointed to the big
bellies of the directors sweating gold, a whole band of shareholders,
going on for a century like kept women, doing nothing but enjoy with
their bodies. Was it not fearful? a race of men dying down below, from
father to son, so that bribes of wine could be given to ministers, and
generations of great lords and bourgeois could give feasts or fatten
by their firesides! He had studied the diseases of the miners. He
made them all march past with their awful details: anaemia, scrofula,
black bronchitis, the asthma which chokes, and the rheumatism which
paralyses. These wretches were thrown as food to the engines and penned
up like beasts in the settlements. The great companies absorbed them,
regulating their slavery, threatening to enrol all the workers of the
nation, millions of hands, to bring fortune to a thousand idlers. But
the miner was no longer an ignorant brute, crushed within the bowels
of the earth. An army was springing up from the depths of the pits, a
harvest of citizens whose seed would germinate and burst through the
earth some sunny day. And they would see then if, after forty years of
service, any one would dare to offer a pension of a hundred and fifty
francs to an old man of sixty who spat out coal and whose legs were
swollen with the water from the cuttings. Yes! labour would demand
an account from capital: that impersonal god, unknown to the worker,
crouching down somewhere in his mysterious sanctuary, where he sucked
the life out of the starvelings who nourished him! They would go down
there; they would at last succeed in seeing his face by the gleam of
incendiary fires, they would drown him in blood, that filthy swine,
that monstrous idol, gorged with human flesh!

He was silent, but his arm, still extended in space, indicated the
enemy, down there, he knew not where, from one end of the earth to the
other. This time the clamour of the crowd was so great that people at
Montsou heard it, and looked towards Vandame, seized with anxiety at
the thought that some terrible landslip had occurred. Night-birds rose
above the trees in the clear open sky.

He now concluded his speech.

"Mates, what is your decision? Do you vote for the strike to go on?"

Their voices yelled, "Yes! yes!"

"And what steps do you decide on? We are sure of defeat if cowards go
down to-morrow."

Their voices rose again with the sound of a tempest:

"Kill the cowards!"

"Then you decide to call them back to duty and to their sworn word.
This is what we could do: present ourselves at the pits, bring back the
traitors by our presence, show the Company that we are all agreed, and
that we are going to die rather than yield."

"That's it. To the pits! to the pits!"

While he was speaking Étienne had looked for Catherine among the pale
shouting heads before him. She was certainly not there, but he still
saw Chaval, affecting to jeer, shrugging his shoulders, but devoured by
jealousy and ready to sell himself for a little of this popularity.

"And if there are any spies among us, mates," Étienne went on, "let
them look out; they're known. Yes, I can see Vandame colliers here who
have not left their pit."

"Is that meant for me?" asked Chaval, with an air of bravado.

"For you, or for any one else. But, since you speak, you ought to
understand that those who eat have nothing to do with those who are
starving. You work at Jean-Bart."

A chaffing voice interrupted:

"Oh! he work! he's got a wife who works for him."

Chaval swore, while the blood rose to his face.

"By God! is it forbidden to work, then?"

"Yes!" said Étienne, "when your mates are enduring misery for the good
of all, it is forbidden to go over, like a selfish sneaking coward,
to the masters' side. If the strike had been general we should have
got the best of it long ago. Not a single man at Vandame ought to have
gone down when Montsou is resting. To accomplish the great stroke, work
should be stopped in the entire country, at Monsieur Deneulin's as well
as here. Do you understand? there are only traitors in the Jean Bart
cuttings; you're all traitors!"

The crowd around Chaval grew threatening, and fists were raised and
cries of "Kill him! kill him!" began to be uttered. He had grown pale.
But, in his infuriated desire to triumph over Étienne, an idea restored
him.

"Listen to me, then! come to-morrow to Jean-Bart, and you shall see if
I'm working! We're on your side; they've sent me to tell you so. The
fires must be extinguished, and the engine-men, too, must go on strike.
All the better if the pumps do stop! the water will destroy the pits
and everything will be done for!"

He was furiously applauded in his turn, and now Étienne himself was
outflanked. Other orators succeeded each other from the tree-trunk,
gesticulating amid the tumult, and throwing out wild propositions.
It was a mad outburst of faith, the impatience of a religious sect
which, tired of hoping for the expected miracle, had at last decided
to provoke it. These heads, emptied by famine, saw everything red, and
dreamed of fire and blood in the midst of a glorious apotheosis from
which would arise universal happiness. And the tranquil moon bathed
this surging sea, the deep forest encircled with its vast silence this
cry of massacre. The frozen moss crackled beneath the heels of the
crowd, while the beeches, erect in their strength, with the delicate
tracery of their black branches against the white sky, neither saw nor
heard the miserable beings who writhed at their feet.

There was some pushing, and Maheude found herself near Maheu. Both of
them, driven out of their ordinary good sense, and carried away by
the slow exasperation which had been working within them for months,
approved Levaque, who went to extremes by demanding the heads of the
engineers. Pierron had disappeared. Bonnemort and Mouque were both
talking together, saying vague violent things which nobody heard. For a
joke Zacharie demanded the demolition of the churches, while Mouquet,
with his crosse in his hand, was beating it against the ground for
the sake of increasing the row. The women were furious. The Levaque,
with her fists to her hips, was setting to with Philoméne, whom she
accused of having laughed; Mouquette talked of attacking the gendarmes
by kicking them somewhere; Mother Brulé, who had just slapped Lydie on
finding her without either basket or salad, went on launching blows
into space against all the masters whom she would like to have got at.
For a moment Jeanlin was in terror, Bébert having learned through a
trammer that Madame Rasseneur had seen them steal Poland; but when he
had decided to go back and quietly release the beast at the door of
the Avantage, he shouted louder than ever, and opened his new knife,
brandishing the blade and proud of its glitter.

"Mates! mates!" repeated the exhausted Étienne, hoarse with the effort
to obtain a moment's silence for a definite understanding.

At last they listened.

"Mates! to-morrow morning at Jean-Bart, is it agreed?"

"Yes! yes! at Jean-Bart! death to the traitors!"

The tempest of these three thousand voices filled the sky, and died
away in the pure brightness of the moon.



PART FIVE



CHAPTER I


At four o'clock the moon had set, and the night was very dark.
Everything was still asleep at Deneulin's; the old brick house stood
mute and gloomy, with closed doors and windows, at the end of the large
ill-kept garden which separated it from the Jean-Bart mine. The other
frontage faced the deserted road to Vandame, a large country town,
about three kilometres off, hidden behind the forest.

Deneulin, tired after a day spent in part below, was snoring with his
face toward the wall, when he dreamt that he had been called. At last
he awoke, and really hearing a voice, got out and opened the window.
One of his captains was in the garden.

"What is it, then?" he asked.

"There's a rebellion, sir; half the men will not work, and are
preventing the others from going down."

He scarcely understood, with head heavy and dazed with sleep, and the
great cold struck him like an icy douche.

"Then make them go down, by George!" he stammered.

"It's been going on an hour," said the captain. "Then we thought it
best to come for you. Perhaps you will be able to persuade them."

"Very good; I'll go."

He quickly dressed himself, his mind quite clear now, and very
anxious. The house might have been pillaged; neither the cook nor the
man-servant had stirred. But from the other side of the staircase
alarmed voices were whispering; and when he came out he saw his
daughters' door open, and they both appeared in white dressing-gowns,
slipped on in haste.

"Father, what is it?"

Lucie, the elder, was already twenty-two, a tall dark girl, with a
haughty air; while Jeanne, the younger, as yet scarcely nineteen years
old, was small, with golden hair and a certain caressing grace.

"Nothing serious," he replied, to reassure them. "It seems that some
blusterers are making a disturbance down there. I am going to see."

But they exclaimed that they would not let him go before he had taken
something warm. If not, he would come back ill, with his stomach out of
order, as he always did. He struggled, gave his word of honour that he
was too much in a hurry.

"Listen!" said Jeanne, at last, hanging to his neck, "you must drink a
little glass of rum and eat two biscuits, or I shall remain like this,
and you'll have to take me with you."

He resigned himself, declaring that the biscuits would choke him. They
had already gone down before him, each with her candlestick. In the
dining-room below they hastened to serve him, one pouring out the rum,
the other running to the pantry for the biscuits. Having lost their
mother when very young, they had been rather badly brought up alone,
spoilt by their father, the elder haunted by the dream of singing
on the stage, the younger mad over painting in which she showed a
singular boldness of taste. But when they had to retrench after the
embarrassment in their affairs, these apparently extravagant girls
had suddenly developed into very sensible and shrewd managers, with
an eye for errors of centimes in accounts. Today, with their boyish
and artistic demeanour, they kept the purse, were careful over sous,
haggled with the tradesmen, renovated their dresses unceasingly, and in
fact, succeeded in rendering decent the growing embarrassment of the
house.

"Eat, papa," repeated Lucie.

Then, remarking his silent gloomy preoccupation, she was again
frightened.

"Is it serious, then, that you look at us like this? Tell us; we will
stay with you, and they can do without us at that lunch."

She was speaking of a party which had been planned for the morning,
Madame Hennebeau was to go in her carriage, first for Cécile, at
the Grégoires', then to call for them, so that they could all go to
Marchiennes to lunch at the Forges, where the manager's wife had
invited them. It was an opportunity to visit the workshops, the blast
furnaces, and the coke ovens.

"We will certainly remain," declared Jeanne, in her turn.

But he grew angry.

"A fine idea! I tell you that it is nothing. Just be so good as to get
back into your beds again, and dress yourselves for nine o'clock, as
was arranged."

He kissed them and hastened to leave. They heard the noise of his boots
vanishing over the frozen earth in the garden.

Jeanne carefully placed the stopper in the rum bottle, while Lucie
locked up the biscuits. The room had the cold neatness of dining-rooms
where the table is but meagrely supplied. And both of them took
advantage of this early descent to see if anything had been left
uncared for the evening before. A serviette lay about, the servant
should be scolded. At last they were upstairs again.

While he was taking the shortest cut through the narrow paths of his
kitchen garden, Deneulin was thinking of his compromised fortune,
this Montsou denier, this million which he had realized, dreaming to
multiply it tenfold, and which was to-day running such great risks.
It was an uninterrupted course of ill-luck, enormous and unforeseen
repairs, ruinous conditions of exploitation, then the disaster of this
industrial crisis, just when the profits were beginning to come in. If
the strike broke out here, he would be overthrown. He pushed a little
door: the buildings of the pit could be divined in the black night, by
the deepening of the shadow, starred by a few lanterns.

Jean-Bart was not so important as the Voreux, but its renewed
installation made it a pretty pit, as the engineers say. They had
not been contented by enlarging the shaft one metre and a half, and
deepening it to seven hundred and eight metres, they had equipped it
afresh with a new engine, new cages, entirely new material, all set up
according to the latest scientific improvements; and even a certain
seeking for elegance was visible in the constructions, a screening-shed
with carved frieze, a steeple adorned with a clock, a receiving-room
and an engine-room both rounded into an apse like a Renaissance
chapel, and surmounted by a chimney with a mosaic spiral made of black
bricks and red bricks. The pump was placed on the other shaft of the
concession, the old Gaston-Marie pit, reserved solely for this purpose.
Jean-Bart, to right and left of the winding-shaft, only had two
conduits, that for the steam ventilator and that for the ladders.

In the morning, ever since three o'clock, Chaval, who had arrived
first, had been seducing his comrades, convincing them that they ought
to imitate those at Montsou, and demand an increase of five centimes
a tram. Soon four hundred workmen had passed from the shed into the
receiving-room, in the midst of a tumult of gesticulation and shouting.
Those who wished to work stood with their lamps, barefooted, with
shovel or pick beneath their arms; while the others, still in their
sabots, with their overcoats on their shoulders because of the great
cold, were barring the shaft; and the captains were growing hoarse in
the effort to restore order, begging them to be reasonable and not to
prevent those who wanted from going down.

But Chaval was furious when he saw Catherine in her trousers and
jacket, her head tied up in the blue cap. On getting up, he had roughly
told her to stay in bed. In despair at this arrest of work she had
followed him all the same, for he never gave her any money; she often
had to pay both for herself and him; and what was to become of her if
she earned nothing? She was overcome by fear, the fear of a brothel
at Marchiennes, which was the end of putter-girls without bread and
without lodging.

"By God!" cried Chaval, "what the devil have you come here for?"

She stammered that she had no income to live on and that she wanted to
work.

"Then you put yourself against me, wench? Back you go at once, or I'll
go back with you and kick my sabots into your backside."

She recoiled timidly but she did not leave, resolved to see how things
would turn out. Deneulin had arrived by the screening-stairs. In
spite of the weak light of the lanterns, with a quick look he took in
the scene, with this rabble wrapt in shadow; he knew every face--the
pikemen, the porters, the landers, the putters, even the trammers. In
the nave, still new and clean, the arrested task was waiting; the steam
in the engine, under pressure, made slight whistling sounds; the cages
were hanging motionless to the cables; the trams, abandoned on the
way, were encumbering the metal floors. Scarcely eighty lamps had been
taken; the others were flaming in the lamp cabin. But no doubt a word
from him would suffice, and the whole life of labour would begin again.

"Well, what's going on then, my lads?" he asked in a loud voice. "What
are you angry about? Just explain to me and we will see if we can
agree."

He usually behaved in a paternal way towards his men, while at the
same time demanding hard work. With an authoritative, rough manner, he
had tried to conquer them by a good nature which had its outbursts of
passion, and he often gained their love; the men especially respected
in him his courage, always in the cuttings with them, the first in
danger whenever an accident terrified the pit. Twice, after fire-damp
explosions, he had been let down, fastened by a rope under his armpits,
when the bravest drew back.

"Now," he began again, "you are not going to make me repent of having
trusted you. You know that I have refused police protection. Talk
quietly and I will hear you."

All were now silent and awkward, moving away from him; and it was
Chaval who at last said:

"Well, Monsieur Deneulin, we can't go on working; we must have five
centimes more the tram."

He seemed surprised.

"What! five centimes! and why this demand? I don't complain about your
timbering, I don't want to impose a new tariff on you like the Montsou
directors."

"Maybe! but the Montsou mates are right, all the same. They won't have
the tariff, and they want a rise of five centimes because it is not
possible to work properly at the present rates. We want five centimes
more, don't we, you others?"

Voices approved, and the noise began again in the midst of violent
gesticulation. Gradually they drew near, forming a small circle.

A flame came into Deneulin's eyes, and his fist, that of a man who
liked strong government, was clenched, for fear of yielding to the
temptation of seizing one of them by the neck. He preferred to discuss
on the basis of reason.

"You want five centimes, and I agree that the work is worth it. Only
I can't give it. If I gave it I should simply be done for. You must
understand that I have to live first in order for you to live, and
I've got to the end, the least rise in net prices will upset me. Two
years ago, you remember, at the time of the last strike, I yielded, I
was able to then. But that rise of wages was not the less ruinous, for
these two years have been a struggle. To-day I would rather let the
whole thing go than not be able to tell next month where to get the
money to pay you."

Chaval laughed roughly in the face of this master who told them his
affairs so frankly. The others lowered their faces, obstinate and
incredulous, refusing to take into their heads the idea that a master
did not gain millions out of his men.

Then Deneulin, persisting, explained his struggle with Montsou, always
on the watch and ready to devour him if, some day, he had the stupidity
to come to grief. It was a savage competition which forced him to
economize, the more so since the great depth of Jean-Bart increased the
price of extraction, an unfavourable condition hardly compensated by
the great thickness of the coal-beds. He would never have raised wages
after the last strike if it had not been necessary for him to imitate
Montsou, for fear of seeing his men leave him. And he threatened them
with the morrow; a fine result it would be for them, if they obliged
him to sell, to pass beneath the terrible yoke of the directors! He did
not sit on a throne far away in an unknown sanctuary; he was not one
of those shareholders who pay agents to skin the miner who has never
seen them; he was a master, he risked something besides his money, he
risked his intelligence, his health, his life. Stoppage of work would
simply mean death, for he had no stock, and he must fulfil orders.
Besides, his standing capital could not sleep. How could he keep his
engagements? Who would pay the interest on the sums his friends had
confided to him? It would mean bankruptcy.

"That's where we are, my good fellows," he said, in conclusion. "I want
to convince you. We don't ask a man to cut his own throat, do we? and
if I give you your five centimes, or if I let you go out on strike,
it's the same as if I cut my throat."

He was silent. Grunts went round. A party among the miners seemed to
hesitate. Several went back towards the shaft.

"At least," said a captain, "let every one be free. Who are those who
want to work?"

Catherine had advanced among the first. But Chaval fiercely pushed her
back, shouting:

"We are all agreed; it's only bloody rogues who'll leave their mates!"

After that, conciliation appeared impossible. The cries began again,
and men were hustled away from the shaft, at the risk of being crushed
against the walls. For a moment the manager, in despair, tried to
struggle alone, to reduce the crowd by violence; but it was useless
madness, and he retired. For a few minutes he rested, out of breath, on
a chair in the receiver's office, so overcome by his powerlessness that
no ideas came to him. At last he grew calm, and told an inspector to go
and bring Chaval; then, when the latter had agreed to the interview, he
motioned the others away.

"Leave us."

Deneulin's idea was to see what this fellow was after. At the first
words he felt that he was vain, and was devoured by passionate
jealousy. Then he attacked him by flattery, affecting surprise that
a workman of his merit should so compromise his future. It seemed as
though he had long had his eyes on him for rapid advancement; and
he ended by squarely offering to make him captain later on. Chaval
listened in silence, with his fists at first clenched, but then
gradually unbent. Something was working in the depths of his skull;
if he persisted in the strike he would be nothing more than Étienne's
lieutenant, while now another ambition opened, that of passing into the
ranks of the bosses. The heat of pride rose to his face and intoxicated
him. Besides, the band of strikers whom he had expected since the
morning had not arrived; some obstacle must have stopped them, perhaps
the police; it was time to submit. But all the same he shook his head;
he acted the incorruptible man, striking his breast indignantly. Then,
without mentioning to the master the rendezvous he had given to the
Montsou men, he promised to calm his mates, and to persuade them to go
down.

Deneulin remained hidden, and the captains themselves stood aside. For
an hour they heard Chaval orating and discussing, standing on a tram in
the receiving-room. Some of the men hooted him; a hundred and twenty
went off exasperated, persisting in the resolution which he had made
them take. It was already past seven. The sun was rising brilliantly;
it was a bright day of hard frost; and all at once movement began in
the pit, and the arrested labour went on. First the crank of the engine
plunged, rolling and unrolling the cables on the drums. Then, in the
midst of the tumult of the signals, the descent took place. The cages
filled and were engulfed, and rose again, the shaft swallowing its
ration of trammers and putters and pikemen; while on the metal floors
the landers pushed the trams with a sound of thunder.

"By God! What the devil are you doing there?" cried Chaval to
Catherine, who was awaiting her turn. "Will you just go down and not
laze about!"

At nine o'clock, when Madame Hennebeau arrived in her carriage with
Cécile, she found Lucie and Jeanne quite ready and very elegant, in
spite of their dresses having been renovated for the twentieth time.
But Deneulin was surprised to see Négrel accompanying the carriage on
horseback. What! were the men also in the party? Then Madame Hennebeau
explained in her maternal way that they had frightened her by saying
that the streets were full of evil faces, and so she preferred to
bring a defender. Négrel laughed and reassured them: nothing to cause
anxiety, threats of brawlers as usual, but not one of them would dare
to throw a stone at a window-pane. Still pleased with his success,
Deneulin related the checked rebellion at Jean-Bart. He said that he
was now quite at rest. And on the Vandame road, while the young ladies
got into the carriage, all congratulated themselves on the superb day,
oblivious of the long swelling shudder of the marching people afar off
in the country, though they might have heard the sound of it if they
had pressed their ears against the earth.

"Well! it is agreed," repeated Madame Hennebeau. "This evening you will
call for the young ladies and dine with us. Madame Grégoire has also
promised to come for Cécile."

"You may reckon on me," replied Deneulin.

The carriage went off towards Vandame, Jeanne and Lucie leaning down
to laugh once more to their father, who was standing by the roadside;
while Négrel gallantly trotted behind the fleeing wheels.

They crossed the forest, taking the road from Vandame to Marchiennes.
As they approached Tartaret, Jeanne asked Madame Hennebeau if she knew
Côte-Verte, and the latter, in spite of her stay of five years in
the country, acknowledged that she had never been on that side. Then
they made a detour. Tartaret, on the outskirts of the forest, was an
uncultivated moor, of volcanic sterility, under which for ages a coal
mine had been burning. Its history was lost in legend. The miners of
the place said that fire from heaven had fallen on this Sodom in the
bowels of the earth, where the putter-girls had committed abominations
together, so that they had not even had the time to come to the
surface, and today were still burning at the bottom of this hell. The
calcined rocks, of a sombre red, were covered by an efflorescence of
alum as by a leprosy. Sulphur grew like a yellow flower at the edge
of the fissures. At night, those who were brave enough to venture to
look into these holes declared that they saw flames there, sinful
souls shrivelling in the furnace within. Wandering lights moved over
the soil, and hot vapours, the poisons from the devil's ordure and his
dirty kitchen, were constantly smoking. And like a miracle of eternal
spring, in the midst of this accursed moor of Tartaret, Côte-Verte
appeared, with its meadows for ever green, its beeches with leaves
unceasingly renewed, its fields where three harvests ripened. It was
a natural hot-house, warmed by the fire in the deep strata beneath.
The snow never lay on it. The enormous bouquet of verdure, beside the
leafless forest trees, blossomed on this December day, and the frost
had not even scorched the edge of it.

Soon the carriage was passing over the plain. Négrel joked over the
legend, and explained that a fire often occurred at the bottom of a
mine from the fermentation of the coal dust; if not mastered it would
burn on for ever, and he mentioned a Belgian pit which had been flooded
by diverting a river and running it into the pit. But he became silent.
For the last few minutes groups of miners had been constantly passing
the carriage; they went by in silence, with sidelong looks at the
luxurious equipage which forced them to stand aside. Their number went
on increasing. The horses were obliged to cross the little bridge over
the Scarpe at walking pace. What was going on, then, to bring all these
people into the roads? The young ladies became frightened, and Négrel
began to smell out some fray in the excited country; it was a relief
when they at last arrived at Marchiennes. The batteries of coke ovens
and the chimneys of the blast furnaces, beneath a sun which seemed to
extinguish them, were belching out smoke and raining their everlasting
soot through the air.



CHAPTER II


At Jean-Bart, Catherine had already been at work for an hour, pushing
trams as far as the relays; and she was soaked in such a bath of
perspiration that she stopped a moment to wipe her face.

At the bottom of the cutting, where he was hammering at the seam with
his mates, Chaval was astonished when he no longer heard the rumble of
the wheels. The lamps burnt badly, and the coal dust made it impossible
to see.

"What's up?" he shouted.

When she answered that she was sure she would melt, and that her heart
was going to stop, he replied furiously:

"Do like us, stupid! Take off your shift."

They were seven hundred and eight metres to the north in the first
passage of the Désirée seam, which was at a distance of three
kilometres from the pit-eye. When they spoke of this part of the pit,
the miners of the region grew pale, and lowered their voices, as if
they had spoken of hell; and most often they were content to shake
their heads as men who would rather not speak of these depths of fiery
furnace. As the galleries sank towards the north, they approached
Tartaret, penetrating to that interior fire which calcined the rocks
above. The cuttings at the point at which they had arrived had an
average temperature of forty-five degrees. They were there in the
accursed city, in the midst of the flames which the passers-by on
the plain could see through the fissures, spitting out sulphur and
poisonous vapours.

Catherine, who had already taken off her jacket, hesitated, then took
off her trousers also; and with naked arms and naked thighs, her
chemise tied round her hips by a cord like a blouse, she began to push
again.

"Anyhow, that's better," she said aloud.

In the stifling heat she still felt a vague fear. Ever since they began
working here, five days ago, she had thought of the stories told her in
childhood, of those putter-girls of the days of old who were burning
beneath Tartaret, as a punishment for things which no one dared to
repeat. No doubt she was too big now to believe such silly stories; but
still, what would she do if she were suddenly to see coming out of the
wall a girl as red as a stove, with eyes like live coals? The idea made
her perspire still more.

At the relay, eighty metres from the cutting, another putter took the
tram and pushed it eighty metres farther to the upbrow, so that the
receiver could forward it with the others which came down from the
upper galleries.

"Gracious! you're making yourself comfortable!" said this woman, a lean
widow of thirty, when she saw Catherine in her chemise. "I can't do it,
the trammers at the brow bother me with their dirty tricks."

"Ah, well!" replied the young girl. "I don't care about the men! I feel
too bad."

She went off again, pushing an empty tram. The worst was that in this
bottom passage another cause joined with the neighbourhood of Tartaret
to make the heat unbearable. They were by the side of old workings, a
very deep abandoned gallery of Gaston-Marie, where, ten years earlier,
an explosion of fire-damp had set the seam alight; and it was still
burning behind the clay wall which had been built there and was kept
constantly repaired, in order to limit the disaster. Deprived of air,
the fire ought to have become extinct, but no doubt unknown currents
kept it alive; it had gone on for ten years, and heated the clay wall
like the bricks of an oven, so that those who passed felt half-roasted.
It was along this wall, for a length of more than a hundred metres,
that the haulage was carried on, in a temperature of sixty degrees.

After two journeys, Catherine again felt stifled. Fortunately, the
passage was large and convenient in this Désirée seam, one of the
thickest in the district. The bed was one metre ninety in height, and
the men could work standing. But they would rather have worked with
twisted necks and a little fresh air.

"Hallo, there! are you asleep?" said Chaval again, roughly, as soon as
he no longer heard Catherine moving. "How the devil did I come to get
such a jade? Will you just fill your tram and push?"

She was at the bottom of the cutting, leaning on her shovel; she was
feeling ill, and she looked at them all with a foolish air without
obeying. She scarcely saw them by the reddish gleam of the lamps,
entirely naked like animals, so black, so encrusted in sweat and coal,
that their nakedness did not frighten her. It was a confused task,
the bending of ape-like backs, an infernal vision of scorched limbs,
spending their strength amid dull blows and groans. But they could see
her better, no doubt, for the picks left off hammering, and they joked
her about taking off her trousers.

"Eh! you'll catch cold; look out!"

"It's because she's got such fine legs! I say, Chaval, there's enough
there for two."

"Oh! we must see. Lift up! Higher! higher!"

Then Chaval, without growing angry at these jokes, turned on her.

"That's it, by God! Ah! she likes dirty jokes. She'd stay there to
listen till to-morrow."

Catherine had painfully decided to fill her tram, then she pushed it.
The gallery was too wide for her to get a purchase on the timber on
both sides; her naked feet were twisted in the rails where they sought
a point of support, while she slowly moved on, her arms stiffened in
front, and her back breaking. As soon as she came up to the clay wall,
the fiery torture again began, and the sweat fell from her whole body
in enormous drops as from a storm-cloud. She had scarcely got a third
of the way before she streamed, blinded, soiled also by the black mud.
Her narrow chemise, as though dipped in ink, was sticking to her skin,
and rising up to her waist with the movement of her thighs; it hurt her
so that she had once more to stop her task.

What was the matter with her, then, today? Never before had she felt
as if there were wool in her bones. It must be the bad air. The
ventilation did not reach to the bottom of this distant passage. One
breathed there all sorts of vapours, which came out of the coal with
the low bubbling sound of a spring, so abundantly sometimes that
the lamps would not burn; to say nothing of fire-damp, which nobody
noticed, for from one week's end to the other the men were always
breathing it into their noses throughout the seam. She knew that bad
air well; dead air the miners called it; the heavy asphyxiating gases
below, above them the light gases which catch fire and blow up all the
stalls of a pit, with hundreds of men, in a single burst of thunder.
From her childhood she had swallowed so much that she was surprised she
bore it so badly, with buzzing ears and burning throat.

Unable to go farther, she felt the need of taking off her chemise. It
was beginning to torture her, this garment of which the least folds cut
and burnt her. She resisted the longing, and tried to push again, but
was forced to stand upright. Then quickly, saying to herself that she
would cover herself at the relay, she took off everything, the cord and
the chemise, so feverishly that she would have torn off her skin if she
could. And now, naked and pitiful, brought down to the level of the
female animal seeking its living in the mire of the streets, covered
with soot and mud up to the belly, she laboured on like a cab-hack. On
all fours she pushed onwards.

But despair came; it gave her no relief to be naked. What more could
she take off? The buzzing in her ears deafened her, she seemed to feel
a vice gripping her temples. She fell on her knees. The lamp, wedged
into the coal in the tram, seemed to her to be going out. The intention
to turn up the wick alone survived in the midst of her confused ideas.
Twice she tried to examine it, and both times when she placed it before
her on the earth she saw it turn pale, as though it also lacked breath.
Suddenly the lamp went out. Then everything whirled around her in the
darkness; a millstone turned in her head, her heart grew weak and left
off beating, numbed in its turn by the immense weariness which was
putting her limbs to sleep. She had fallen back in anguish amid the
asphyxiating air close to the ground.

"By God! I believe she's lazing again," growled Chaval's voice.

He listened from the top of the cutting, and could hear no sound of
wheels.

"Eh, Catherine! you damned worm!"

His voice was lost afar in the black gallery, and not a breath replied.

"I'll come and make you move, I will!"

Nothing stirred, there was only the same silence, as of death. He
came down furiously, rushing along with his lamp so violently that he
nearly fell over the putter's body which barred the way. He looked
at her in stupefaction. What was the matter, then? was it humbug, a
pretence of going to sleep? But the lamp which he had lowered to light
up her face threatened to go out. He lifted it and lowered it afresh,
and at last understood; it must be a gust of bad air. His violence
disappeared; the devotion of the miner in face of a comrade's peril
was awaking within him. He shouted for her chemise to be brought, and
seized the naked and unconscious girl in his arms, holding her as high
as possible. When their garments had been thrown over her shoulders he
set out running, supporting his burden with one hand, and carrying the
two lamps with the other. The deep galleries unrolled before him as he
rushed along, turning to the right, then to the left, seeking life in
the frozen air of the plain which blew down the air-shaft. At last the
sound of a spring stopped him, the trickle of water flowing from the
rock. He was at a square in the great haulage gallery which formerly
led to Gaston-Marie. The air here blew in like a tempest, and was so
fresh that a shudder went through him as he seated himself on the earth
against the props; his mistress was still unconscious, with closed eyes.

"Catherine, come now, by God! no humbug. Hold yourself up a bit while I
dip this in the water."

He was frightened to find her so limp. However, he was able to dip her
chemise in the spring, and to bathe her face with it. She was like a
corpse, already buried in the depth of the earth, with her slender
girlish body which seemed to be still hesitating before swelling to
the form of puberty. Then a shudder ran over her childish breast, over
the belly and thighs of the poor little creature deflowered before her
time. She opened her eyes and stammered:

"I'm cold."

"Ah! that's better now!" cried Chaval, relieved.

He dressed her, slipped on the chemise easily, but swore over the
difficulty he had in getting on the trousers, for she could not help
much. She remained dazed, not understanding where she was, nor why
she was naked. When she remembered she was ashamed. How had she dared
to take everything off! And she questioned him; had she been seen so,
without even a handkerchief around her waist to cover her? He joked,
and made up stories, saying that he had just brought her there in the
midst of all the mates standing in a row. What an idea, to have taken
his advice and exhibited her bum! Afterwards he declared that the mates
could not even know whether it was round or square, he had rushed along
so swiftly.

"The deuce! but I'm dying of cold," he said, dressing himself in turn.

Never had she seen him so kind. Usually, for one good word that he said
to her she received at once two bullying ones. It would have been so
pleasant to live in agreement; a feeling of tenderness went through her
in the languor of her fatigue. She smiled at him, and murmured:

"Kiss me."

He embraced her, and lay down beside her, waiting till she was able to
walk.

"You know," she said again, "you were wrong to shout at me over there,
for I couldn't do more, really! Even in the cutting you're not so hot;
if you only knew how it roasts you at the bottom of the passage!"

"Sure enough," he replied, "it would be better under the trees. You
feel bad in that stall, I'm afraid, my poor girl."

She was so touched at hearing him agree with her that she tried to be
brave.

"Oh! it's a bad place. Then, to-day the air is poisoned. But you shall
see soon if I'm a worm. When one has to work, one works; isn't it true?
I'd die rather than stop."

There was silence. He held her with one arm round her waist, pressing
her against his breast to keep her from harm. Although she already felt
strong enough to go back to the stall, she forgot everything in her
delight.

"Only," she went on in a very low voice, "I should like it so much if
you were kinder. Yes, it is so good when we love each other a little."

And she began to cry softly.

"But I do love you," he cried, "for I've taken you with me."

She only replied by shaking her head. There are often men who take
women just in order to have them, caring mighty little about their
happiness. Her tears flowed more hotly; it made her despair now to
think of the happy life she would have led if she had chanced to fall
to another lad, whose arm she would always have felt thus round her
waist. Another? and the vague image of that other arose from the depth
of her emotion. But it was done with; she only desired now to live to
the end with this one, if he would not hustle her about too much.

"Then," she said, "try to be like this sometimes."

Sobs cut short her words, and he embraced her again.

"You're a stupid! There, I swear to be kind. I'm not worse than any one
else, go on!"

She looked at him, and began to smile through her tears. Perhaps he
was right; one never met women who were happy. Then, although she
distrusted his oath, she gave herself up to the joy of seeing him
affectionate. Good God! if only that could last! They had both embraced
again, and as they were pressing each other in a long clasp they heard
steps, which made them get up. Three mates who had seen them pass had
come up to know how she was.

They set out together. It was nearly ten o'clock, and they took their
lunch into a cool corner before going back to sweat at the bottom of
the cutting. They were finishing the double slice of bread-and-butter,
their brick, and were about to drink the coffee from their tin, when
they were disturbed by a noise coming from stalls in the distance. What
then? was it another accident? They got up and ran. Pikemen, putters,
trammers crossed them at every step; no one knew anything; all were
shouting; it must be some great misfortune. Gradually the whole mine
was in terror, frightened shadows emerged from the galleries, lanterns
danced and flew away in the darkness. Where was it? Why could no one
say?

All at once a captain passed, shouting:

"They are cutting the cables! they are cutting the cables!"

Then the panic increased. It was a furious gallop through the gloomy
passages. Their heads were confused. Why cut the cables? And who was
cutting them, when the men were below? It seemed monstrous.

But the voice of another captain was heard and then lost:

"The Montsou men are cutting the cables! Let every one go up!"

When he had understood, Chaval stopped Catherine short. The idea that
he would meet the Montsou men up above, should he get out, paralysed
his legs. It had come, then, that band which he thought had got into
the hands of the police. For a moment he thought of retracing his path
and ascending through Gaston-Marie, but that was no longer possible. He
swore, hesitating, hiding his fear, repeating that it was stupid to run
like that. They would not, surely, leave them at the bottom.

The captain's voice echoed anew, now approaching them:

"Let every one go up! To the ladders! to the ladders!"

And Chaval was carried away with his mates. He pushed Catherine and
accused her of not running fast enough. Did she want, then, to remain
in the pit to die of hunger? For those Montsou brigands were capable
of breaking the ladders without waiting for people to come up. This
abominable suggestion ended by driving them wild. Along the galleries
there was only a furious rush, helter-skelter; a race of madmen, each
striving to arrive first and mount before the others. Some men shouted
that the ladders were broken and that no one could get out. And then in
frightened groups they began to reach the pit-eye, where they were all
engulfed. They threw themselves toward the shaft, they crushed through
the narrow door to the ladder passage; while an old groom who had
prudently led back the horses to the stable, looked at them with an air
of contemptuous indifference, accustomed to spend nights in the pit and
certain that he could eventually be drawn out of it.

"By God! will you climb up in front of me?" said Chaval to Catherine.
"At least I can hold you if you fall."

Out of breath, and suffocated by this race of three kilometres which
had once more bathed her in sweat, she gave herself up, without
understanding, to the eddies of the crowd. Then he pulled her by the
arm, almost breaking it; and she cried with pain, her tears bursting
out. Already he was forgetting his oath, never would she be happy.

"Go on, then!" he roared.

But he frightened her too much. If she went first he would bully her
the whole time. So she resisted, while the wild flood of their comrades
pushed them to one side. The water that filtered from the shaft was
falling in great drops, and the floor of the pit-eye, shaken by this
tramping, was trembling over the sump, the muddy cesspool ten metres
deep. At Jean-Bart, two years earlier, a terrible accident had happened
just here; the breaking of a cable had precipitated the cage to the
bottom of the sump, in which two men had been drowned. And they all
thought of this; every one would be left down there if they all crowded
on to the planks.

"Confounded dunderhead!" shouted Chaval. "Die then; I shall be rid of
you!"

He climbed up and she followed.

From the bottom to daylight there were a hundred and two ladders, about
seven metres in length, each placed on a narrow landing which occupied
the breadth of the passage and in which a square hole scarcely allowed
the shoulders to pass. It was like a flat chimney, seven hundred metres
in height, between the wall of the shaft and the brattice of the
winding-cage, a damp pipe, black and endless, in which the ladders were
placed one above the other, almost straight, in regular stages. It took
a strong man twenty-five minutes to climb up this giant column. The
passage, however, was no longer used except in cases of accident.

Catherine at first climbed bravely. Her naked feet were used to the
hard coal on the floors of the passages, and did not suffer from the
square rungs, covered with iron rods to prevent them from wearing
away. Her hands, hardened by the haulage, grasped without fatigue the
uprights that were too big for her. And it even interested her and took
her out of her grief, this unforeseen ascent, this long serpent of
men flowing on and hoisting themselves up three on a ladder, so that
even when the head should emerge in daylight the tail would still be
trailing over the sump. They were not there yet, the first could hardly
have ascended a third of the shaft. No one spoke now, only their feet
moved with a low sound; while the lamps, like travelling stars, spaced
out from below upward, formed a continually increasing line.

Catherine heard a trammer behind her counting the ladders. It gave her
the idea of counting them also. They had already mounted fifteen, and
were arriving at a landing-place. But at that moment she collided with
Chaval's legs. He swore, shouting to her to look out. Gradually the
whole column stopped and became motionless. What then? had something
happened? and every one recovered his voice to ask questions and to
express fear. Their anxiety had increased since leaving the bottom;
their ignorance as to what was going on above oppressed them more as
they approached daylight. Someone announced that they would have to go
down again, that the ladders were broken. That was the thought that
preoccupied them all, the fear of finding themselves face to face with
space. Another explanation came down from mouth to mouth; there had
been an accident, a pikeman slipped from a rung. No one knew exactly,
the shouts made it impossible to hear; were they going to bed there? At
last, without any precise information being obtained, the ascent began
again, with the same slow, painful movement, in the midst of the tread
of feet and the dancing of lamps. It must certainly be higher up that
the ladders were broken.

At the thirty-second ladder, as they passed a third landing-stage,
Catherine felt her legs and arms grow stiff. At first she had felt a
slight tingling in her skin. Now she lost the sensation of the iron
and the wood beneath her feet and in her hands. A vague pain, which
gradually became burning, heated her muscles. And in the dizziness
which came over her, she recalled her grandfather Bonnemort's stories
of the days when there was no passage, and little girls of ten used to
take out the coal on their shoulders up bare ladders; so that if one
of them slipped, or a fragment of coal simply rolled out of a basket,
three or four children would fall down head first from the blow. The
cramp in her limbs became unbearable, she would never reach the end.

Fresh stoppages allowed her to breathe. But the terror which was
communicated every time from above dazed her still more. Above and
below her, respiration became more difficult. This interminable ascent
was causing giddiness, and the nausea affected her with the others. She
was suffocating, intoxicated with the darkness, exasperated with the
walls which crushed against her flesh, and shuddering also with the
dampness, her body perspiring beneath the great drops which fell on
her. They were approaching a level where so thick a rain fell that it
threatened to extinguish their lamps.

Chaval twice spoke to Catherine without obtaining any reply. What the
devil was she doing down there? Had she let her tongue fall? She might
just tell him if she was all right. They had been climbing for half an
hour, but so heavily that he had only reached the fifty-ninth ladder;
there were still forty-three. Catherine at last stammered that she was
getting on all right. He would have treated her as a worm if she had
acknowledged her weariness. The iron of the rungs must have cut her
feet; it seemed to her that it was sawing in up to the bone. After
every grip she expected to see her hands leave the uprights; they were
so peeled and stiff she could not close her fingers, and she feared she
would fall backward with torn shoulders and dislocated thighs in this
continual effort. It was especially the defective slope of the ladders
from which she suffered, the almost perpendicular position which
obliged her to hoist herself up by the strength of her wrists, with her
belly against the wood. The panting of many breaths now drowned the
sound of the feet, forming an enormous moan, multiplied tenfold by the
partition of the passage, arising from the depths and expiring towards
the light. There was a groan; word ran along that a trammer had just
cut his head open against the edge of a stair.

And Catherine went on climbing. They had passed the level. The rain
had ceased; a mist made heavy the cellar-like air, poisoned with the
odour of old iron and damp wood. Mechanically she continued to count
in a low voice--eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three; still nineteen.
The repetition of these figures supported her merely by their rhythmic
balance; she had no further consciousness of her movements. When she
lifted her eyes the lamps turned in a spiral. Her blood was flowing;
she felt that she was dying; the least breath would have knocked her
over. The worst was that those below were now pushing, and that the
entire column was stampeding, yielding to the growing anger of its
fatigue, the furious need to see the sun again. The first mates had
emerged; there were, then, no broken ladders; but the idea that they
might yet be broken to prevent the last from coming up, when others
were already breathing up above, nearly drove them mad. And when a new
stoppage occurred oaths broke out, and all went on climbing, hustling
each other, passing over each other's bodies to arrive at all costs.

Then Catherine fell. She had cried Chaval's name in despairing appeal.
He did not hear; he was struggling, digging his heels into a comrade's
ribs to get before him. And she was rolled down and trampled over.
As she fainted she dreamed. It seemed to her that she was one of
the little putter-girls of old days, and that a fragment of coal,
fallen from the basket above her, had thrown her to the bottom of the
shaft, like a sparrow struck by a flint. Five ladders only remained
to climb. It had taken nearly an hour. She never knew how she reached
daylight, carried up on people's shoulders, supported by the throttling
narrowness of the passage. Suddenly she found herself in the dazzling
sunlight, in the midst of a yelling crowd who were hooting her.



CHAPTER III


From early morning, before daylight, a tremor had agitated the
settlements, and that tremor was now swelling through the roads and
over the whole country. But the departure had not taken place as
arranged, for the news had spread that cavalry and police were scouring
the plain. It was said that they had arrived from Douai during the
night, and Rasseneur was accused of having betrayed his mates by
warning M. Hennebeau; a putter even swore that she had seen the servant
taking a dispatch to the telegraph office. The miners clenched their
fists and watched the soldiers from behind their shutters by the pale
light of the early morning.

Towards half-past seven, as the sun was rising, another rumour
circulated, reassuring the impatient. It was a false alarm, a simple
military promenade, such as the general occasionally ordered since
the strike had broken out, at the desire of the prefect of Lille. The
strikers detested this official; they reproached him with deceiving
them by the promise of a conciliatory intervention, which was limited
to a march of troops into Montsou every week, to overawe them. So when
the cavalry and police quietly took the road back to Marchiennes, after
contenting themselves with deafening the settlements by the stamping of
their horses over the hard earth, the miners jeered at this innocent
prefect and his soldiers who turned on their heels when things were
beginning to get hot. Up till nine o'clock they stood peacefully about,
in good humour, before their houses, following with their eyes up the
streets the meek backs of the last gendarmes. In the depths of their
large beds the good people of Montsou were still sleeping, with their
heads among the feathers. At the manager's house, Madame Hennebeau had
just been seen setting out in the carriage, leaving M. Hennebeau at
work, no doubt, for the closed and silent villa seemed dead. Not one
of the pits had any military guard; it was a fatal lack of foresight
in the hour of danger, the natural stupidity which accompanies
catastrophes, the fault which a government commits whenever there is
need of precise knowledge of the facts. And nine o'clock was striking
when the colliers at last took the Vandame road, to repair to the
rendezvous decided on the day before in the forest.

Étienne had very quickly perceived that he would certainly not find
over at Jean-Bart the three thousand comrades on whom he was counting.
Many believed that the demonstration was put off, and the worst was
that two or three bands, already on the way, would compromise the cause
if he did not at all costs put himself at their head. Almost a hundred,
who had set out before daylight, were taking refuge beneath the forest
beeches, waiting for the others. Souvarine, whom the young man went
up to consult, shrugged his shoulders; ten resolute fellows could do
more work than a crowd; and he turned back to the open book before
him, refusing to join in. The thing threatened to turn into sentiment
when it would have been enough to adopt the simple method of burning
Montsou. As Étienne left the house he saw Rasseneur, seated before the
metal stove and looking very pale, while his wife, in her everlasting
black dress, was abusing him in polite and cutting terms.

Maheu was of opinion that they ought to keep their promise. A
rendezvous like this was sacred. However, the night had calmed their
fever; he was now fearing misfortune, and he explained that it was
their duty to go over there to maintain their mates in the right path.
Maheude approved with a nod. Étienne repeated complacently that it
was necessary to adopt revolutionary methods, without attempting any
person's life. Before setting out he refused his share of a loaf that
had been given him the evening before, together with a bottle of gin;
but he drank three little glasses, one after the other, saying that
he wanted to keep out the cold; he even carried away a tinful. Alzire
would look after the children. Old Bonnemort, whose legs were suffering
from yesterday's walk, remained in bed.

They did not go away together, from motives of prudence. Jeanlin had
disappeared long ago. Maheu and Maheude went off on the side sloping
towards Montsou; while Étienne turned towards the forest, where he
proposed to join his mates. On the way he caught up a band of women
among whom he recognized Mother Brulé and the Levaque woman; as they
walked they were eating chestnuts which Mouquette had brought; they
swallowed the skins so as to feel more in their stomachs. But in the
forest he found no one; the men were already at Jean-Bart. He took the
same course, and arrived at the pit at the moment when Levaque and
some hundreds others were penetrating into the square. Miners were
coming up from every direction--the men by the main road, the women by
the fields, all at random, without leaders, without weapons, flowing
naturally thither like water which runs down a slope. Étienne perceived
Jeanlin, who had climbed up on a foot-bridge, installed as though at
a theatre. He ran faster, and entered among the first. There were
scarcely three hundred of them.

There was some hesitation when Deneulin showed himself at the top of
the staircase which led to the receiving-room.

"What do you want?" he asked in a loud voice.

After having watched the disappearance of the carriage, from which
his daughters were still laughing towards him, he had returned to the
pit overtaken by a strange anxiety. Everything, however, was found in
good order. The men had gone down; the cage was working, and he became
reassured again, and was talking to the head captain when the approach
of the strikers was announced to him. He had placed himself at a window
of the screening-shed; and in the face of this increasing flood which
filled the square, he at once felt his impotence. How could he defend
these buildings, open on every side? he could scarcely group some
twenty of his workmen round himself. He was lost.

"What do you want?" he repeated, pale with repressed anger, making an
effort to accept his disaster courageously.

There were pushes and growls amid the crowd. Étienne at last came
forward, saying:

"We do not come to injure you, sir, but work must cease everywhere."

Deneulin frankly treated him as an idiot.

"Do you think you will benefit me if you stop work at my place? You
might just as well fire a gun off into my back. Yes, my men are below,
and they shall not come up, unless you mean to murder me first!"

These rough words raised a clamour. Maheu had to hold back Levaque,
who was pushing forward in a threatening manner, while Étienne went on
discussing, and tried to convince Deneulin of the lawfulness of their
revolutionary conduct. But the latter replied by the right to work.
Besides, he refused to discuss such folly; he meant to be master in his
own place. His only regret was that he had not four gendarmes here to
sweep away this mob.

"To be sure, it is my fault; I deserve what has happened to me. With
fellows of your sort force is the only argument. The Government thinks
to buy you by concessions. You will throw it down, that's all, when it
has given you weapons."

Étienne was quivering, but still held himself in. He lowered his voice.

"I beg you, sir, give the order for your men to come up. I cannot
answer for my mates. You may avoid a disaster."

"No! be good enough to let me alone! Do I know you? You do not belong
to my works, you have no quarrel with me. It is only brigands who thus
scour the country to pillage houses."

Loud vociferations now drowned his voice, the women especially abused
him. But he continued to hold his own, experiencing a certain relief in
this frankness with which he expressed his disciplinarian nature. Since
he was ruined in any case, he thought platitudes a useless cowardice.
But their numbers went on increasing; nearly five hundred were pushing
towards the door, and he might have been torn to pieces if his head
captain had not pulled him violently back.

"For mercy's sake, sir! There will be a massacre. What is the good of
letting men be killed for nothing?"

He struggled and protested in one last cry thrown at the crowd:

"You set of brigands, you will know what, when we are strongest again!"

They led him away; the hustling of the crowd had thrown the first ranks
against the staircase so that the rail was twisted. It was the women
who pushed and screamed and urged on the men. The door yielded at
once; it was a door without a lock, simply closed by a latch. But the
staircase was too narrow for the pushing crowd, which would have taken
long to get in if the rear of the besiegers had not gone off to enter
by other openings. Then they poured in on all sides--by the shed, the
screening-place, the boiler buildings. In less than five minutes the
whole pit belonged to them; they swarmed at every story in the midst
of furious gestures and cries, carried away by their victory over this
master who resisted.

Maheu, in terror, had rushed forward among the first, saying to Étienne:

"They must not kill him!"

The latter was already running; then, when Étienne understood that
Deneulin had barricaded himself in the captains' room, he replied:

"Well, would it be our fault? such a madman!"

He was feeling anxious, however, being still too calm to yield to this
outburst of anger. His pride of leadership also suffered on seeing the
band escape from his authority and become enraged, going beyond the
cold execution of the will of the people, such as he had anticipated.
In vain he called for coolness, shouting that they must not put right
on their enemies' side by acts of useless destruction.

"To the boilers!" shouted Mother Brulé. "Put out the fires!"

Levaque, who had found a file, was brandishing it like a dagger,
dominating the tumult with a terrible cry:

"Cut the cables! cut the cables!"

Soon they all repeated this; only Étienne and Maheu continued to
protest, dazed, and talking in the tumult without obtaining silence. At
last the former was able to say:

"But there are men below, mates!"

The noise redoubled and voices arose from all sides:

"So much the worse!--Ought not to go down!--Serve the traitors
right!--Yes, yes, let them stay there!--And then, they have the
ladders!"

Then, when this idea of the ladders had made them still more obstinate,
Étienne saw that he would have to yield. For fear of a greater disaster
he hastened towards the engine, wishing at all events to bring the
cages up, so that the cables, being cut above the shaft, should not
smash them by falling down with their enormous weight. The engine-man
had disappeared as well as the few daylight workers; and he took hold
of the starting lever, manipulating it while Levaque and two other
climbed up the metal scaffold which supported the pulleys. The cages
were hardly fixed on the keeps when the strident sound was heard of
the file biting into the steel. There was deep silence, and this
noise seemed to fill the whole pit; all raised their heads, looking
and listening, seized by emotion. In the first rank Maheu felt a
fierce joy possess him, as if the teeth of the file would deliver
them from misfortune by eating into the cable of one of these dens of
wretchedness, into which they would never descend again.

But Mother Brulé had disappeared by the shed stairs still shouting:

"The fires must be put out! To the boilers! to the boilers!"

Some women followed her. Maheude hastened to prevent them from smashing
everything, just as her husband had tried to reason with the men. She
was the calmest of them; one could demand one's rights without making
a mess in people's places. When she entered the boiler building the
women were already chasing away the two stokers, and the Brulé, armed
with a large shovel, and crouching down before one of the stoves,
was violently emptying it, throwing the red-hot coke on to the brick
floor, where it continued to burn with black smoke. There were ten
stoves for the five boilers. Soon the women warmed to the work, the
Levaque manipulating her shovel with both hands, Mouquette raising her
clothes up to her thighs so as not to catch fire, all looking red in
the reflection of the flames, sweating and dishevelled in this witch's
kitchen. The piles of coal increased, and the burning heat cracked the
ceiling of the vast hall.

"Enough, now!" cried Maheude; "the store-room is afire."

"So much the better," replied Mother Brulé. "That will do the work. Ah,
by God! haven't I said that I would pay them out for the death of my
man!"

At this moment Jeanlin's shrill voice was heard:

"Look out! I'll put it out, I will! I'll let it all off!"

He had come in among the first, and had kicked his legs about among the
crowd, delighted at the fray and seeking out what mischief he could do;
the idea had occurred to him to turn on the discharge taps and let off
the steam.

The jets came out with the violence of volleys; the five boilers were
emptied with the sound of a tempest, whistling in such a roar of
thunder that one's ears seemed to bleed. Everything had disappeared
in the midst of the vapour, the hot coal grew pale, and the women
were nothing more than shadows with broken gestures. The child alone
appeared mounted on the gallery, behind the whirlwinds of white steam,
filled with delight and grinning broadly in the joy of unchaining this
hurricane.

This lasted nearly a quarter of an hour. A few buckets of water had
been thrown over the heaps to complete their extinction; all danger of
a fire had gone by, but the anger of the crowd had not subsided; on
the contrary, it had been whipped up. Men went down with hammers, even
the women armed themselves with iron bars; and they talked of smashing
boilers, of breaking engines, and of demolishing the mine.

Étienne, forewarned, hastened to come up with Maheu. He himself was
becoming intoxicated and carried away by this hot fever of revenge. He
struggled, however, and entreated them to be calm, now that, with cut
cables, extinguished fires, and empty boilers, work was impossible.
He was not always listened to; and was again about to be carried away
by the crowd, when hoots arose outside at a little low door where the
ladder passage emerged.

"Down with the traitors!--Oh! the dirty chops of the cowards!--Down
with them! down with them!"

The men were beginning to come up from below. The first arrivals,
blinded by the daylight, stood there with quivering eyelids. Then they
moved away, trying to gain the road and flee.

"Down with the cowards! down with the traitors!"

The whole band of strikers had run up. In less than three minutes there
was not a man left in the buildings; the five hundred Montsou men were
ranged in two rows, and the Vandame men, who had had the treachery to
go down, were forced to pass between this double hedge. And as every
fresh miner appeared at the door of the passage, covered with the
black mud of work and with garments in rags, the hooting redoubled,
and ferocious jokes arose. Oh! look at that one!--three inches of legs
and then his arse! and this one with his nose eaten by those Volcan
girls! and this other, with eyes pissing out enough wax to furnish
ten cathedrals! and this other, the tall fellow without a rump and as
long as Lent! An enormous putter-woman, who rolled out with her breast
to her belly and her belly to her backside, raised a furious laugh.
They wanted to handle them, the joking increased and was turning to
cruelty, blows would soon have rained; while the row of poor devils
came out shivering and silent beneath the abuse, with sidelong looks in
expectation of blows, glad when they could at last rush away out of the
mine.

"Hallo! how many are there in there?" asked Étienne.

He was astonished to see them still coming out, and irritated at the
idea that it was not a mere handful of workers, urged by hunger,
terrorized by the captains. They had lied to him, then, in the forest;
nearly all Jean-Bart had gone down. But a cry escaped from him and he
rushed forward when he saw Chaval standing on the threshold.

"By God! is this the rendezvous you called us to?"

Imprecations broke out and there was a movement of the crowd towards
the traitor. What! he had sworn with them the day before, and now they
found him down below with the others! Was he, then, making fools of
people?

"Off with him! To the shaft! to the shaft!"

Chaval, white with fear, stammered and tried to explain. But Étienne
cut him short, carried out of himself and sharing the fury of the band.

"You wanted to be in it, and you shall be in it. Come on! take your
damned snout along!"

Another clamour covered his voice. Catherine, in her turn, had just
appeared, dazzled by the bright sunlight, and frightened at falling
into the midst of these savages. She was panting, with legs aching from
the hundred and two ladders, and with bleeding palms, when Maheude,
seeing her, rushed forward with her hand up.

"Ah! slut! you, too! When your mother is dying of hunger you betray her
for your bully!"

Maheu held back her arm, and stopped the blow. But he shook his
daughter; he was enraged, like his wife; he threw her conduct in her
face, and both lost their heads, shouting louder than their mates.

The sight of Catherine had completed Étienne's exasperation. He
repeated:

"On we go to the other pits, and you come with us, you dirty devil!"

Chaval had scarcely time to get his sabots from the shed and to throw
his woollen jacket over his frozen shoulders. They all dragged him on,
forcing him to run in the midst of them. Catherine, bewildered, also
put on her sabots, buttoning at her neck her man's old jacket, with
which she kept off the cold; and she ran behind her lover, she would
not leave him, for surely they were going to murder him.

Then in two minutes Jean-Bart was emptied. Jeanlin had found a horn
and was blowing it, producing hoarse sounds, as though he were
gathering oxen together. The women--Mother Brulé, the Levaque, and
Mouquette--raised their skirts to run, while Levaque, with an axe in
his hand, manipulated it like a drum-major's stick. Other men continued
to arrive; they were nearly a thousand, without order, again flowing on
to the road like a torrent let loose. The gates were too narrow, and
the palings were broken down.

"To the pits!--Down with the traitors!--No more work!"

And Jean-Bart fell suddenly into a great silence. Not a man was left,
not a breath was heard. Deneulin came out of the captains' room, and
quite alone, with a gesture forbidding any one to follow him, he went
over the pit. He was pale and very calm.

At first he stopped before the shaft, lifting his eyes to look at the
cut cables; the steel ends hung useless, the bite of the file had
left a living scar, a fresh wound which gleamed in the black grease.
Afterwards he went up to the engine, and looked at the crank, which
was motionless, like the joint of a colossal limb struck by paralysis.
He touched the metal, which had already cooled, and the cold made him
shudder as though he had touched a corpse. Then he went down to the
boiler-room, walked slowly before the extinguished stoves, yawning
and inundated, and struck his foot against the boilers, which sounded
hollow. Well! it was quite finished; his ruin was complete. Even if he
mended the cables and lit the fires, where would he find men? Another
fortnight's strike and he would be bankrupt. And in this certainty of
disaster he no longer felt any hatred of the Montsou brigands; he felt
that all had a complicity in it, that it was a general agelong fault.
They were brutes, no doubt, but brutes who could not read, and who were
dying of hunger.



CHAPTER IV


And the troop went off over the flat plain, white with frost beneath
the pale winter sun, and overflowed the path as they passed through the
beetroot fields.

From the Fourche-aux-Boeufs, Étienne had assumed command. He cried
his orders while the crowd moved on, and organized the march. Jeanlin
galloped at the head, performing barbarous music on his horn. Then
the women came in the first ranks, some of them armed with sticks:
Maheude, with wild eyes seemed to be seeking afar for the promised
city of justice, Mother Brulé, the Levaque woman, Mouquette, striding
along beneath their rags, like soldiers setting out for the seat of
war. If they had any encounters, we should see if the police dared
to strike women. And the men followed in a confused flock, a stream
that grew larger and larger, bristling with iron bars and dominated by
Levaque's single axe, with its blade glistening in the sun. Étienne,
in the middle, kept Chaval in sight, forcing him to walk before him;
while Maheu, behind, gloomily kept an eye on Catherine, the only woman
among these men, obstinately trotting near her lover for fear that he
would be hurt. Bare heads were dishevelled in the air; only the clank
of sabots could be heard, like the movement of released cattle, carried
away by Jeanlin's wild trumpeting.

But suddenly a new cry arose:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

It was midday; the hunger of six weeks on strike was awaking in
these empty stomachs, whipped up by this race across the fields. The
few crusts of the morning and Mouquette's chestnuts had long been
forgotten; their stomachs were crying out, and this suffering was added
to their fury against the traitors.

"To the pits! No more work! Bread!"

Étienne, who had refused to eat his share at the settlement, felt an
unbearable tearing sensation in his chest. He made no complaint, but
mechanically took his tin from time to time and swallowed a gulp of
gin, shaking so much that he thought he needed it to carry him to the
end. His cheeks were heated and his eyes inflamed. He kept his head,
however, and still wished to avoid needless destruction.

As they arrived at the Joiselle road a Vandame pikeman, who had joined
the band for revenge on his master, impelled the men towards the right,
shouting:

"To Gaston-Marie! Must stop the pump! Let the water ruin Jean-Bart!"

The mob was already turning, in spite of the protests of Étienne,
who begged them to let the pumping continue. What was the good of
destroying the galleries? It offended his workman's heart, in spite
of his resentment. Maheu also thought it unjust to take revenge on
a machine. But the pikeman still shouted his cry of vengeance, and
Étienne had to cry still louder:

"To Mirou! There are traitors down there! To Mirou! to Mirou!"

With a gesture, he had turned the crowd towards the left road; while
Jeanlin, going ahead, was blowing louder than ever. An eddy was
produced in the crowd; this time Gaston-Marie was saved.

And the four kilometres which separated them from Mirou were traversed
in half an hour, almost at running pace, across the interminable plain.
The canal on this side cut it with a long icy ribbon. The leafless
trees on the banks, changed by the frost into giant candelabra,
alone broke this pale uniformity, prolonged and lost in the sky at
the horizon as in a sea. An undulation of the ground hid Montsou and
Marchiennes; there was nothing but bare immensity.

They reached the pit, and found a captain standing on a foot-bridge at
the screening-shed to receive them. They all well knew Father Quandieu,
the _doyen_ of the Montsou captains, an old man whose skin and
hair were quite white, and who was in his seventies, a miracle of fine
health in the mines.

"What have you come after here, you pack of meddlers?" he shouted.

The band stopped. It was no longer a master, it was a mate; and a
certain respect held them back before this old workman.

"There are men down below," said Étienne. "Make them come up."

"Yes, there are men there," said Father Quandieu, "some six dozen; the
others were afraid of you evil beggars! But I warn you that not one
comes up, or you will have to deal with me!"

Exclamations arose, the men pushed, the women advanced. Quickly coming
down from the foot-bridge, the captain now barred the door.

Then Maheu tried to interfere.

"It is our right, old man. How can we make the strike general if we
don't force all the mates to be on our side?"

The old man was silent a moment. Evidently his ignorance on the subject
of coalition equalled the pikeman's. At last he replied:

"It may be your right, I don't say. But I only know my orders. I am
alone here; the men are down till three, and they shall stay there till
three."

The last words were lost in hooting. Fists were threateningly advanced,
the women deafened him, and their hot breath blew in his face. But he
still held out, his head erect, and his beard and hair white as snow;
his courage had so swollen his voice that he could be heard distinctly
over the tumult.

"By God! you shall not pass! As true as the sun shines, I would rather
die than let you touch the cables. Don't push any more, or I'm damned
if I don't fling myself down the shaft before you!"

The crowd drew back shuddering and impressed. He went on:

"Where is the beast who does not understand that? I am only a workman
like you others. I have been told to guard here, and I'm guarding."

That was as far as Father Quandieu's intelligence went, stiffened by
his obstinacy of military duty, his narrow skull, and eyes dimmed by
the black melancholy of half a century spent underground. The men
looked at him moved, feeling within them an echo of what he said, this
military obedience, the sense of fraternity and resignation in danger.
He saw that they were hesitating still, and repeated:

"I'm damned if I don't fling myself down the shaft before you!"

A great recoil carried away the mob. They all turned, and in the rush
took the right-hand road, which stretched far away through the fields.
Again cries arose:

"To Madeleine! To Crévecoeur! no more work! Bread! bread!"

But in the centre, as they went on, there was hustling. It was Chaval,
they said, who was trying to take advantage of an opportunity to
escape. Étienne had seized him by the arm, threatening to do for him if
he was planning some treachery. And the other struggled and protested
furiously:

"What's all this for? Isn't a man free? I've been freezing the last
hour. I want to clean myself. Let me go!"

He was, in fact, suffering from the coal glued to his skin by sweat,
and his woollen garment was no protection.

"On you go, or we'll clean you," replied Étienne. "Don't expect to get
your life at a bargain."

They were still running, and he turned towards Catherine, who was
keeping up well. It annoyed him to feel her so near him, so miserable,
shivering beneath her man's old jacket and her muddy trousers. She must
be nearly dead of fatigue, she was running all the same.

"You can go off, you can," he said at last.

Catherine seemed not to hear. Her eyes, on meeting Étienne's, only
flamed with reproach for a moment. She did not stop. Why did he want
her to leave her man? Chaval was not at all kind, it was true; he
would even beat her sometimes. But he was her man, the one who had had
her first; and it enraged her that they should throw themselves on
him--more than a thousand of them. She would have defended him without
any tenderness at all, out of pride.

"Off you go!" repeated Maheu, violently.

Her father's order slackened her course for a moment. She trembled, and
her eyelids swelled with tears. Then, in spite of her fear, she came
back to the same place again, still running. Then they let her be.

The mob crossed the Joiselle road, went a short distance up the Cron
road and then mounted towards Cougny. On this side, factory chimneys
striped the flat horizon; wooden sheds, brick workshops with large
dusty windows, appeared along the street. They passed one after another
the low buildings of two settlements--that of the Cent-Quatre-Vingts,
then that of the Soixante-Seize; and from each of them, at the sound of
the horn and the clamour arising from every mouth, whole families came
out--men, women, and children--running to join their mates in the rear.
When they came up to Madeleine there were at least fifteen hundred. The
road descended in a gentle slope; the rumbling flood of strikers had to
turn round the pit-bank before they could spread over the mine square.

It was now not more than two o'clock. But the captains had been warned
and were hastening the ascent as the band arrived. The men were all
up, only some twenty remained and were now disembarking from the cage.
They fled and were pursued with stones. Two were struck, another left
the sleeve of his jacket behind. This man-hunt saved the material, and
neither the cables nor the boilers were touched. The flood was already
moving away, rolling on towards the next pit.

This one, Crévecoeur, was only five hundred metres away from Madeleine.
There, also, the mob arrived in the midst of the ascent. A putter-girl
was taken and whipped by the women with her breeches split open and
her buttocks exposed before the laughing men. The trammer-boys had
their ears boxed, the pikemen got away, their sides blue from blows
and their noses bleeding. And in this growing ferocity, in this old
need of revenge which was turning every head with madness, the choked
cries went on, death to traitors, hatred against ill-paid work, the
roaring of bellies after bread. They began to cut the cables, but the
file would not bite, and the task was too long now that the fever was
on them for moving onward, for ever onward. At the boilers a tap was
broken; while the water, thrown by bucketsful into the stoves, made the
metal gratings burst.

Outside they were talking of marching on Saint-Thomas. This was the
best disciplined pit. The strike had not touched it, nearly seven
hundred men must have gone down there. This exasperated them; they
would wait for these men with sticks, ranged for battle, just to see
who would get the best of it. But the rumour ran along that there were
gendarmes at Saint-Thomas, the gendarmes of the morning whom they had
made fun of. How was this known? nobody could say. No matter! they
were seized by fear and decided on Feutry-Cantel. Their giddiness
carried them on, all were on the road, clanking their sabots, rushing
forward. To Feutry-Cantel! to Feutry-Cantel! The cowards there were
certainly four hundred in number and there would be fun! Situated three
kilometres away, this pit lay in a fold of the ground near the Scarpe.
They were already climbing the slope of the Platriéres, beyond the road
to Beaugnies, when a voice, no one knew from whom, threw out the idea
that the soldiers were, perhaps, down there at Feutry-Cantel. Then from
one to the other of the column it was repeated that the soldiers were
down there. They slackened their march, panic gradually spread in the
country, idle without work, which they had been scouring for hours. Why
had they not come across any soldiers? This impunity troubled them, at
the thought of the repression which they felt to be coming.

Without any one knowing where it came from, a new word of command
turned them towards another pit.

"To the Victoire! to the Victoire!"

Were there, then, neither soldiers nor police at the Victoire? Nobody
knew. All seemed reassured. And turning round they descended from the
Beaumont side and cut across the fields to reach the Joiselle road. The
railway line barred their passage, and they crossed it, pulling down
the palings. Now they were approaching Montsou, the gradual undulation
of the landscape grew less, the sea of beetroot fields enlarged,
reaching far away to the black houses at Marchiennes.

This time it was a march of five good kilometres. So strong an impulse
pushed them on that they had no feeling of their terrible fatigue, or
of their bruised and wounded feet. The rear continued to lengthen,
increased by mates enlisted on the roads and in the settlements. When
they had passed the canal at the Magache bridge, and appeared before
the Victoire, there were two thousand of them. But three o'clock had
struck, the ascent was completed, not a man remained below. Their
disappointment was spent in vain threats; they could only heave
broken bricks at the workmen who had arrived to take their duty at
the earth-cutting. There was a rush, and the deserted pit belonged to
them. And in their rage at not finding a traitor's face to strike,
they attacked things. A rankling abscess was bursting within them, a
poisoned boil of slow growth. Years and years of hunger tortured them
with a thirst for massacre and destruction. Behind a shed Étienne saw
some porters filling a wagon with coal.

"Will you just clear out of the bloody place!" he shouted. "Not a bit
of coal goes out!"

At his orders some hundred strikers ran up, and the porters only had
time to escape. Men unharnessed the horses, which were frightened and
set off, struck in the haunches; while others, overturning the wagon,
broke the shafts.

Levaque, with violent blows of his axe, had thrown himself on the
platforms to break down the foot-bridges. They resisted, and it
occurred to him to tear up the rails, destroying the line from one
end of the square to the other. Soon the whole band set to this task.
Maheu made the metal chairs leap up, armed with his iron bar which
he used as a lever. During this time Mother Brulé led away the women
and invaded the lamp cabin, where their sticks covered the soil with
a carnage of lamps. Maheude, carried out of herself, was laying about
her as vigorously as the Levaque woman. All were soaked in oil, and
Mouquette dried her hands on her skirt, laughing to find herself so
dirty. Jeanlin for a joke, had emptied a lamp down her neck. But all
this revenge produced nothing to eat. Stomachs were crying out louder
than ever. And the great lamentation dominated still:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

A former captain at the Victoire kept a stall near by. No doubt he had
fled in fear, for his shed was abandoned. When the women came back, and
the men had finished destroying the railway, they besieged the stall,
the shutters of which yielded at once. They found no bread there; there
were only two pieces of raw flesh and a sack of potatoes. But in the
pillage they discovered some fifty bottles of gin, which disappeared
like a drop of water drunk up by the sand.

Étienne, having emptied his tin, was able to refill it. Little by
little a terrible drunkenness, the drunkenness of the starved, was
inflaming his eyes and baring his teeth like a wolf's between his
pallid lips. Suddenly he perceived that Chaval had gone off in the
midst of the tumult. He swore, and men ran to seize the fugitive, who
was hiding with Catherine behind the timber supply.

"Ah! you dirty swine; you are afraid of getting into trouble!" shouted
Étienne. "It was you in the forest who called for a strike of the
engine-men, to stop the pumps, and now you want to play us a filthy
trick! Very well! By God! we will go back to Gaston-Marie. I will have
you smash the pump; yes, by God! you shall smash it!"

He was drunk; he was urging his men against this pump which he had
saved a few hours earlier.

"To Gaston-Marie! to Gaston-Marie!"

They all cheered, and rushed on, while Chaval, seized by the shoulders,
was drawn and pushed violently along, while he constantly asked to be
allowed to wash.

"Will you take yourself off, then?" cried Maheu to Catherine who had
also begun to run again.

This time she did not even draw back, but turned her burning eyes on
her father, and went on running.

Once more the mob ploughed through the flat plain. They were retracing
their steps over the long straight paths, by the fields endlessly
spread out. It was four o'clock; the sun which approached the horizon,
lengthened the shadows of this horde with their furious gestures over
the frozen soil.

They avoided Montsou, and farther on rejoined the Joiselle road; to
spare the journey round Fourche-aux-Boeufs, they passed beneath the
walls of Piolaine. The Grégoires had just gone out, having to visit a
lawyer before going to dine with the Hennebeaus, where they would find
Cécile. The estate seemed asleep, with its avenue of deserted limes,
its kitchen garden and its orchard bared by the winter. Nothing was
stirring in the house, and the closed windows were dulled by the warm
steam within. Out of the profound silence an impression of good-natured
comfort arose, the patriarchal sensation of good beds and a good table,
the wise happiness of the proprietor's existence.

Without stopping, the band cast gloomy looks through the grating and at
the length of protecting walls, bristling with broken bottles. The cry
arose again:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

The dogs alone replied, by barking ferociously, a pair of Great Danes,
with rough coats, who stood with open jaws. And behind the closed
blind there were only the servants. Mélanie the cook and Honorine
the housemaid, attracted by this cry, pale and perspiring with fear
at seeing these savages go by. They fell on their knees, and thought
themselves killed on hearing a single stone breaking a pane of a
neighbouring window. It was a joke of Jeanlin's; he had manufactured a
sling with a piece of cord, and had just sent a little passing greeting
to the Grégoires. Already he was again blowing his horn, the band was
lost in the distance, and the cry grew fainter:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

They arrived at Gaston-Marie in still greater numbers, more than two
thousand five hundred madmen, breaking everything, sweeping away
everything, with the force of a torrent which gains strength as it
moves. The police had passed here an hour earlier, and had gone off
towards Saint-Thomas, led astray by some peasants; in their haste they
had not even taken the precaution of leaving a few men behind to guard
the pit. In less than a quarter of an hour the fires were overturned,
the boilers emptied, the buildings torn down and devastated. But it was
the pump which they specially threatened. It was not enough to stop it
in the last expiring breath of its steam; they threw themselves on it
as on a living person whose life they required.

"The first blow is yours!" repeated Étienne, putting a hammer into
Chaval's hand. "Come! you have sworn with the others!"

Chaval drew back trembling, and in the hustling the hammer fell; while
other men, without waiting, battered the pump with blows from iron
bars, blows from bricks, blows from anything they could lay their hands
on. Some even broke sticks over it. The nuts leapt off, the pieces of
steel and copper were dislocated like torn limbs. The blow of a shovel,
delivered with full force, fractured the metal body; the water escaped
and emptied itself, and there was a supreme gurgle like an agonizing
death-rattle.

That was the end, and the mob found themselves outside again, madly
pushing on behind Étienne, who would not let Chaval go.

"Kill him! the traitor! To the shaft! to the shaft!"

The livid wretch, clinging with imbecile obstinacy to his fixed idea,
continued to stammer his need of cleaning himself.

"Wait, if that bothers you, said the Levaque woman. "Here! here's a
bucket!"

There was a pond there, an infiltration of the water from the pump. It
was white with a thick layer of ice; and they struck it and broke the
ice, forcing him to dip his head in this cold water.

"Duck then," repeated Mother Brulé. "By God! if you don't duck we'll
shove you in. And now you shall have a drink of it; yes, yes, like a
beast, with your jaws in the trough!"

He had to drink on all fours. They all laughed, with cruel laughter.
One woman pulled his ears, another woman threw in his face a handful
of dung found fresh on the road. His old woollen jacket in tatters no
longer held together. He was haggard, stumbling, and with struggling
movements of his hips he tried to flee.

Maheu had pushed him, and Maheude was among those who grew furious,
both of them satisfying their old spite; even Mouquette, who generally
remained such good friends with her old lovers, was wild with this one,
treating him as a good-for-nothing, and talking of taking his breeches
down to see if he was still a man.

Étienne made her hold her tongue.

"That's enough. There's no need for all to set to it. If you like, you,
we will just settle it together."

His fists closed and his eyes were lit up with homicidal fury; his
intoxication was turning into the desire to kill.

"Are you ready? One of us must stay here. Give him a knife; I've got
mine."

Catherine, exhausted and terrified, gazed at him. She remembered his
confidences, his desire to devour a man when he had drunk, poisoned
after the third glass, to such an extent had his drunkards of parents
put this beastliness into his body. Suddenly she leapt forward, struck
him with both her woman's hands, and choking with indignation shouted
into his face:

"Coward! coward! coward! Isn't it enough, then, all these abominations?
You want to kill him now that he can't stand upright any longer!"

She turned towards her father and her mother; she turned towards the
others.

"You are cowards! cowards! Kill me, then, with him! I will tear your
eyes out, I will, if you touch him again. Oh! the cowards!"

And she planted herself before her man to defend him, forgetting the
blows, forgetting the life of misery, lifted up by the idea that she
belonged to him since he had taken her, and that it was a shame for her
when they so crushed him.

Étienne had grown pale beneath this girl's blows. At first he had
been about to knock her down; then, after having wiped his face with
the movement of a man who is recovering from intoxication, he said to
Chaval, in the midst of deep silence:

"She is right; that's enough. Off you go."

Immediately Chaval was away, and Catherine galloped behind him. The
crowd gazed at them as they disappeared round a corner of the road; but
Maheude muttered:

"You were wrong; ought to have kept him. He is sure to be after some
treachery."

But the mob began to march on again. Five o'clock was about to strike.
The sun, as red as a furnace on the edge of the horizon, seemed to
set fire to the whole plain. A pedlar who was passing informed them
that the military were descending from the Crévecoeur side. Then they
turned. An order ran:

"To Montsou! To the manager!--Bread! bread! bread!"



CHAPTER V


M. Hennebeau had placed himself in front of his study window to watch
the departure of the carriage which was taking away his wife to
lunch at Marchiennes. His eyes followed Négrel for a moment, as he
trotted beside the carriage door. Then he quietly returned and seated
himself at his desk. When neither his wife nor his nephew animated
the place with their presence the house seemed empty. On this day the
coachman was driving his wife; Rose, the new housemaid, had leave to
go out till five o'clock; there only remained Hippolyte, the valet de
chambre, trailing about the rooms in slippers, and the cook, who had
been occupied since dawn in struggling with her saucepans, entirely
absorbed in the dinner which was to be given in the evening. So M.
Hennebeau promised himself a day of serious work in this deep calm of
the deserted house.

Towards nine o'clock, although he had received orders to send every
one away, Hippolyte took the liberty of announcing Dansaert, who
was bringing news. The manager then heard, for the first time, of
the meeting in the forest the evening before; the details were very
precise, and he listened while thinking of the intrigue with Pierronne,
so well known that two or three anonymous letters every week denounced
the licentiousness of the head captain. Evidently the husband had
talked, and no doubt the wife had, too. He even took advantage of the
occasion; he let the head captain know that he was aware of everything,
contenting himself with recommending prudence for fear of a scandal.
Startled by these reproaches in the midst of his report, Dansaert
denied, stammered excuses, while his great nose confessed the crime
by its sudden redness. He did not insist, however, glad to get off so
easily; for, as a rule, the manager displayed the implacable severity
of the virtuous man whenever an employee allowed himself the indulgence
of a pretty girl in the pit. The conversation continued concerning the
strike; that meeting in the forest was only the swagger of blusterers;
nothing serious threatened. In any case, the settlements would surely
not stir for some days, beneath the impression of respectful fear which
must have been produced by the military promenade of the morning.

When M. Hennebeau was alone again he was, however, on the point of
sending a telegram to the prefect. Only the fear of uselessly showing
a sign of anxiety held him back. Already he could not forgive himself
his lack of insight in saying everywhere, and even writing to the
directors, that the strike would last at most a fortnight. It had
been going on and on for nearly two months, to his great surprise,
and he was in despair over it; he felt himself every day lowered and
compromised, and was forced to imagine some brilliant achievement
which would bring him back into favour with the directors. He had just
asked them for orders in the case of a skirmish. There was delay over
the reply, and he was expecting it by the afternoon post. He said to
himself that there would be time then to send out telegrams, and to
obtain the military occupation of the pits, if such was the desire of
those gentlemen. In his own opinion there would certainly be a battle
and an expenditure of blood. This responsibility troubled him in spite
of his habitual energy.

Up to eleven o'clock he worked peacefully; there was no sound in the
dead house except Hippolyte's waxing-stick, which was rubbing a floor
far away on the first floor. Then, one after the other, he received two
messages, the first announcing the attack on Jean-Bart by the Montsou
band, the second telling of the cut cables, the overturned fires, and
all the destruction. He could not understand. Why had the strikers gone
to Deneulin instead of attacking one of the Company's pits? Besides,
they were quite welcome to sack Vandame; that would merely ripen the
plan of conquest which he was meditating. And at midday he lunched
alone in the large dining-room, served so quietly by the servant
that he could not even hear his slippers. This solitude rendered his
preoccupations more gloomy; he was feeling cold at the heart when a
captain, who had arrived running, was shown in, and told him of the
mob's march on Mirou. Almost immediately, as he was finishing his
coffee, a telegram informed him that Madeleine and Crévecoeur were
in their turn threatened. Then his perplexity became extreme. He was
expecting the postman at two o'clock; ought he at once to ask for
troops? or would it be better to wait patiently, and not to act until
he had received the directors' orders? He went back into his study;
he wished to read a report which he had asked Négrel to prepare the
day before for the prefect. But he could not put his hand on it; he
reflected that perhaps the young man had left it in his room, where he
often wrote at night, and without taking any decision, pursued by the
idea of this report, he went upstairs to look for it in the room.

As he entered, M. Hennebeau was surprised: the room had not been done,
no doubt through Hippolyte's forgetfulness or laziness. There was a
moist heat there, the close heat of the past night, made heavier from
the mouth of the hot-air stove being left open; and he was suffocated,
too, with a penetrating perfume, which he thought must be the odour
of the toilet waters with which the basin was full. There was great
disorder in the room--garments scattered about, damp towels thrown
on the backs of chairs, the bed yawning, with a sheet drawn back and
draggling on the carpet. But at first he only glanced round with an
abstracted look as he went towards a table covered with papers to look
for the missing report. Twice he examined the papers one by one, but it
was certainly not there. Where the devil could that madcap Paul have
stuffed it?

And as M. Hennebeau went back into the middle of the room, giving a
glance at each article of furniture, he noticed in the open bed a
bright point which shone like a star. He approached mechanically and
put out his hand. It was a little gold scent-bottle lying between two
folds of the sheet. He at once recognized a scent-bottle belonging to
Madame Hennebeau, the little ether bottle which was always with her.
But he could not understand its presence here: how could it have got
into Paul's bed? And suddenly he grew terribly pale. His wife had slept
there.

"Beg your pardon, sir," murmured Hippolyte's voice through the door. "I
saw you going up."

The servant entered and was thrown into consternation by the disorder.

"Lord! Why, the room is not done! So Rose has gone out, leaving all the
house on my shoulders!"

M. Hennebeau had hidden the bottle in his hand and was pressing it
almost to breaking.

"What do you want?"

"It's another man, sir; he has come from Crévecoeur with a letter."

"Good! Leave me alone; tell him to wait."

His wife had slept there! When he had bolted the door he opened his
hand again and looked at the little bottle which had left its image in
red on his flesh. Suddenly he saw and understood; this filthiness had
been going on in his house for months. He recalled his old suspicion,
the rustling against the doors, the naked feet at night through the
silent house. Yes, it was his wife who went up to sleep there!

Falling into a chair opposite the bed, which he gazed at fixedly,
he remained some minutes as though crushed. A noise aroused him;
someone was knocking at the door, trying to open it. He recognized the
servant's voice.

"Sir--Ah! you are shut in, sir."

"What is it now?"

"There seems to be a hurry; the men are breaking everything. There are
two more messengers below. There are also some telegrams."

"You just leave me alone! I am coming directly."

The idea that Hippolyte would himself have discovered the scent-bottle,
had he done the room in the morning, had just frozen him. And besides,
this man must know; he must have found the bed still hot with adultery
twenty times over, with madame's hairs trailing on the pillow, and
abominable traces staining the linen. The man kept interrupting him,
and it could only be out of inquisitiveness. Perhaps he had stayed with
his ear stuck to the door, excited by the debauchery of his masters.

M. Hennebeau did not move. He still gazed at the bed. His long past
of suffering unrolled before him: his marriage with this woman, their
immediate misunderstanding of the heart and of the flesh, the lovers
whom she had had unknown to him, and the lover whom he had tolerated
for ten years, as one tolerates an impure taste in a sick woman. Then
came their arrival at Montsou, the mad hope of curing her, months
of languor, of sleepy exile, the approach of old age which would,
perhaps, at last give her back to him. Then their nephew arrived, this
Paul to whom she became a mother, and to whom she spoke of her dead
heart buried for ever beneath the ashes. And he, the imbecile husband,
foresaw nothing; he adored this woman who was his wife, whom other men
had possessed, but whom he alone could not possess! He adored her with
shameful passion, so that he would have fallen on his knees if she
would but have given him the leavings of other men! The leavings of the
others she gave to this child.

The sound of a distant gong at this moment made M. Hennebeau start. He
recognized it; it was struck, by his orders, when the postman arrived.
He rose and spoke aloud, breaking into the flood of coarseness with
which his parched throat was bursting in spite of himself.

"Ah! I don't care a bloody hang for their telegrams and their letters!
not a bloody hang!"

Now he was carried away by rage, the need of some sewer in which to
stamp down all this filthiness with his heels. This woman was a vulgar
drab; he sought for crude words and buffeted her image with them. The
sudden idea of the marriage between Cécile and Paul, which she was
arranging with so quiet a smile, completed his exasperation. There
was, then, not even passion, not even jealousy at the bottom of this
persistent sensuality? It was now a perverse plaything, the habit of
the woman, a recreation taken like an accustomed dessert. And he put
all the responsibility on her, he regarded as almost innocent the lad
at whom she had bitten in this reawakening of appetite, just as one
bites at an early green fruit, stolen by the wayside. Whom would she
devour, on whom would she fall, when she no longer had complaisant
nephews, sufficiently practical to accept in their own family the
table, the bed, and the wife?

There was a timid scratch at the door, and Hippolyte allowed himself to
whisper through the keyhole:

"The postman, sir. And Monsieur Dansaert, too, has come back, saying
that they are killing one another."

"I'm coming down, good God!"

What should he do to them? Chase them away on their return from
Marchiennes, like stinking animals whom he would no longer have
beneath his roof? He would take a cudgel, and would tell them to carry
elsewhere their poisonous coupling. It was with their sighs, with their
mixed breaths, that the damp warmth of this room had grown heavy;
the penetrating odour which had suffocated him was the odour of musk
which his wife's skin exhaled, another perverse taste, a fleshly need
of violent perfumes; and he seemed to feel also the heat and odour of
fornication, of living adultery, in the pots which lay about, in the
basins still full, in the disorder of the linen, of the furniture,
of the entire room tainted with vice. The fury of impotence threw
him on to the bed, which he struck with his fists, belabouring the
places where he saw the imprint of their two bodies, enraged with the
disordered coverlets and the crumpled sheets, soft and inert beneath
his blows, as though exhausted themselves by the embraces of the whole
night.

But suddenly he thought he heard Hippolyte coming up again. He was
arrested by shame. For a moment he stood panting, wiping his forehead,
calming the bounds of his heart. Standing before a mirror he looked at
his face, so changed that he did not recognize himself. Then, when he
had watched it gradually grow calmer by an effort of supreme will, he
went downstairs.

Five messengers were standing below, not counting Dansaert. All brought
him news of increasing gravity concerning the march of the strikers
among the pits: and the chief captain told him at length what had gone
on at Mirou and the fine behaviour of Father Quandieu. He listened,
nodding his head, but he did not hear; his thoughts were in the room
upstairs. At last he sent them away, saying that he would take due
measures. When he was alone again, seated before his desk, he seemed
to grow drowsy, with his head between his hands, covering his eyes.
His mail was there, and he decided to look for the expected letter,
the directors' reply. The lines at first danced before him, but he
understood at last that these gentlemen desired a skirmish; certainly
they did not order him to make things worse, but they allowed it to be
seen that disturbances would hasten the conclusion of the strike by
provoking energetic repression. After this, he no longer hesitated, but
sent off telegrams on all sides--to the prefect of Lille, to the corps
of soldiery at Douai, to the police at Marchiennes. It was a relief; he
had nothing to do but shut himself in; he even spread the report that
he was suffering from gout. And all the afternoon he hid himself in his
study, receiving no one, contenting himself with reading the telegrams
and letters which continued to rain in. He thus followed the mob from
afar, from Madeleine to Crévecoeur, from Crévecoeur to the Victoire,
from the Victoire to Gaston-Marie. Information also reached him of the
bewilderment of the police and the troops, wandering along the roads,
and always with their backs to the pit attacked. They might kill one
another, and destroy everything! He put his head between his hands
again, with his fingers over his eyes, and buried himself in the deep
silence of the empty house, where he only heard now and then the noise
of the cook's saucepans as she bustled about preparing the evening's
dinner.

The twilight was already darkening the room; it was five o'clock when a
disturbance made M. Hennebeau jump, as he sat dazed and inert with his
elbows in his papers. He thought that it was the two wretches coming
back. But the tumult increased, and a terrible cry broke out just as he
was going to the window:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

It was the strikers, now invading Montsou, while the police, expecting
an attack on the Voreux, were galloping off in the opposite direction
to occupy that pit.

Just then, two kilometres away from the first houses, a little beyond
the crossways where the main road cut the Vandame road, Madame
Hennebeau and the young ladies had witnessed the passing of the mob.
The day had been spent pleasantly at Marchiennes; there had been a
delightful lunch with the manager of the Forges, then an interesting
visit to the workshops and to the neighbouring glass works to occupy
the afternoon; and as they were now going home in the limpid decline
of the beautiful winter day, Cécile had had the whim to drink a glass
of milk, as she noticed a little farm near the edge of the road. They
all then got down from the carriage, and Négrel gallantly leapt off
his horse; while the peasant-woman, alarmed by all these fine people,
rushed about, and spoke of laying a cloth before serving the milk. But
Lucie and Jeanne wanted to see the cow milked, and they went into the
cattle-shed with their cups, making a little rural party, and laughing
greatly at the litter in which one sank.

Madame Hennebeau, with her complacent maternal air, was drinking
with the edge of her lips, when a strange roaring noise from without
disturbed her.

"What is that, then?"

The cattle-shed, built at the edge of the road, had a large door for
carts, for it was also used as a barn for hay. The young girls, who had
put out their heads, were astonished to see on the left a black flood,
a shouting band which was moving along the Vandame road.

"The deuce!" muttered Négrel, who had also gone out. "Are our brawlers
getting angry at last?"

"It is perhaps the colliers again," said the peasant-woman. "This is
twice they've passed. Seems things are not going well; they're masters
of the country."

She uttered every word prudently, watching the effect on their faces;
and when she noticed the fright of all of them, and their deep anxiety
at this encounter, she hastened to conclude:

"Oh, the rascals! the rascals!"

Négrel, seeing that it was too late to get into their carriage and
reach Montsou, ordered the coachman to bring the vehicle into the
farmyard, where it would remain hidden behind a shed. He himself
fastened his horse, which a lad had been holding, beneath the shed.
When he came back he found his aunt and the young girls distracted, and
ready to follow the peasant-woman, who proposed that they should take
refuge in her house. But he was of opinion that they would be safer
where they were, for certainly no one would come and look for them in
the hay. The door, however, shut very badly, and had such large chinks
in it, that the road could be seen between the worm-eaten planks.

"Come, courage!" he said. "We will sell our lives dearly."

This joke increased their fear. The noise grew louder, but nothing
could yet be seen; along the vacant road the wind of a tempest seemed
to be blowing, like those sudden gusts which precede great storms.

"No, no! I don't want to look," said Cécile, going to hide herself in
the hay.

Madame Hennebeau, who was very pale and felt angry with these people
who had spoilt her pleasure, stood in the background with a sidelong
look of repugnance; while Lucie and Jeanne, though trembling, had
placed their eyes at a crack, anxious to lose nothing of the spectacle.

A sound of thunder came near, the earth was shaken, and Jeanlin
galloped up first, blowing into his horn.

"Take out your scent-bottles, the sweat of the people is passing by!"
murmured Négrel, who, in spite of his republican convictions, liked to
make fun of the populace when he was with ladies.

But this witticism was carried away in the hurricane of gestures
and cries. The women had appeared, nearly a thousand of them, with
outspread hair dishevelled by running, the naked skin appearing through
their rags, the nakedness of females weary with giving birth to
starvelings. A few held their little ones in their arms, raising them
and shaking them like banners of mourning and vengeance. Others, who
were younger with the swollen breasts of amazons, brandished sticks;
while frightful old women were yelling so loudly that the cords of
their fleshless necks seemed to be breaking. And then the men came up,
two thousand madmen--trammers, pikemen, menders--a compact mass which
rolled along like a single block in confused serried rank so that it
was impossible to distinguish their faded trousers or ragged woollen
jackets, all effaced in the same earthy uniformity. Their eyes were
burning, and one only distinguished the holes of black mouths singing
the _Marseillaise_; the stanzas were lost in a confused roar,
accompanied by the clang of sabots over the hard earth. Above their
heads, amid the bristling iron bars, an axe passed by, carried erect;
and this single axe, which seemed to be the standard of the band,
showed in the clear air the sharp profile of a guillotine-blade.

"What atrocious faces!" stammered Madame Hennebeau.

Négrel said between his teeth:

"Devil take me if I can recognize one of them! Where do the bandits
spring from?"

And in fact anger, hunger, these two months of suffering and this
enraged helter-skelter through the pits had lengthened the placid
faces of the Montsou colliers into the muzzles of wild beasts. At
this moment the sun was setting; its last rays of sombre purple cast
a gleam of blood over the plain. The road seemed to be full of blood;
men and women continued to rush by, bloody as butchers in the midst of
slaughter.

"Oh! superb!" whispered Lucie and Jeanne, stirred in their artistic
tastes by the beautiful horror of it.

They were frightened, however, and drew back close to Madame Hennebeau,
who was leaning on a trough. She was frozen at the thought that a
glance between the planks of that disjointed door might suffice to
murder them. Négrel also, who was usually very brave, felt himself grow
pale, seized by a terror that was superior to his will, the terror
which comes from the unknown. Cécile, in the hay, no longer stirred;
and the others, in spite of the wish to turn away their eyes, could not
do so: they were compelled to gaze.

It was the red vision of the revolution, which would one day inevitably
carry them all away, on some bloody evening at the end of the century.
Yes, some evening the people, unbridled at last, would thus gallop
along the roads, making the blood of the middle class flow, parading
severed heads and sprinkling gold from disembowelled coffers. The women
would yell, the men would have those wolf-like jaws open to bite. Yes,
the same rags, the same thunder of great sabots, the same terrible
troop, with dirty skins and tainted breath, sweeping away the old world
beneath an overflowing flood of barbarians. Fires would flame; they
would not leave standing one stone of the towns; they would return to
the savage life of the woods, after the great rut, the great feast-day,
when the poor in one night would emaciate the wives and empty the
cellars of the rich. There would be nothing left, not a sou of the
great fortunes, not a title-deed of properties acquired; until the day
dawned when a new earth would perhaps spring up once more. Yes, it
was these things which were passing along the road; it was the force
of nature herself, and they were receiving the terrible wind of it in
their faces.

A great cry arose, dominating the _Marseillaise_:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

Lucie and Jeanne pressed themselves against Madame Hennebeau, who was
almost fainting; while Négrel placed himself before them as though
to protect them by his body. Was the old social order cracking this
very evening? And what they saw immediately after completed their
stupefaction. The band had nearly passed by, there were only a few
stragglers left, when Mouquette came up. She was delaying, watching
the bourgeois at their garden gates or the windows of their houses;
and whenever she saw them, as she was not able to spit in their faces,
she showed them what for her was the climax of contempt. Doubtless she
perceived someone now, for suddenly she raised her skirts, bent her
back, and showed her enormous buttocks, naked beneath the last rays of
the sun. There was nothing obscene in those fierce buttocks, and nobody
laughed.

Everything disappeared: the flood rolled on to Montsou along the turns
of the road, between the low houses streaked with bright colours. The
carriage was drawn out of the yard, but the coachman would not take it
upon him to convey back madame and the young ladies without delay; the
strikers occupied the street. And the worst was, there was no other
road.

"We must go back, however, for dinner will be ready," said Madame
Hennebeau, exasperated by annoyance and fear. "These dirty workpeople
have again chosen a day when I have visitors. How can you do good to
such creatures?"

Lucie and Jeanne were occupied in pulling Cécile out of the hay. She
was struggling, believing that those savages were still passing by,
and repeating that she did not want to see them. At last they all took
their places in the carriage again. It then occurred to Négrel, who had
remounted, that they might go through the Réquillart lanes.

"Go gently," he said to the coachman, "for the road is atrocious. If
any groups prevent you from returning to the road over there, you can
stop behind the old pit, and we will return on foot through the little
garden door, while you can put up the carriage and horses anywhere, in
some inn outhouse."

They set out. The band, far away, was streaming into Montsou. As they
had twice seen police and military, the inhabitants were agitated and
seized by panic. Abominable stories were circulating; it was said that
written placards had been set up threatening to rip open the bellies of
the bourgeois. Nobody had read them, but all the same they were able
to quote the exact words. At the lawyer's especially the terror was
at its height, for he had just received by post an anonymous letter
warning him that a barrel of powder was buried in his cellar, and that
it would be blown up if he did not declare himself on the side of the
people. Just then the Grégoires, prolonging their visit on the arrival
of this letter, were discussing it, and decided that it must be the
work of a joker, when the invasion of the mob completed the terror of
the house. They, however, smiled, drawing back a corner of the curtain
to look out, and refused to admit that there was any danger, certain,
they said, that all would finish up well. Five o'clock struck, and they
had time to wait until the street was free for them to cross the road
to dine with the Hennebeaus, where Cécile, who had surely returned,
must be waiting for them. But no one in Montsou seemed to share their
confidence. People were wildly running about; doors and windows were
banged to. They saw Maigrat, on the other side of the road, barricading
his shop with a large supply of iron bars, and looking so pale and
trembling that his feeble little wife was obliged to fasten the screws.
The band had come to a halt before the manager's villa, and the cry
echoed:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

M. Hennebeau was standing at the window when Hippolyte came in to close
the shutters, for fear the windows should be broken by stones. He
closed all on the ground floor, and then went up to the first floor;
the creak of the window-fasteners was heard and the clack of the
shutters one by one. Unfortunately, it was not possible to shut the
kitchen window in the area in the same way, a window made disquietingly
ruddy by the gleams from the saucepans and the spit.

Mechanically, M. Hennebeau, who wished to look out, went up to Paul's
room on the second floor: it was on the left, the best situated, for it
commanded the road as far as the Company's Yards. And he stood behind
the blinds overlooking the crowd. But this room had again overcome
him, the toilet table sponged and in order, the cold bed with neat and
well-drawn sheets. All his rage of the afternoon, that furious battle
in the depths of his silent solitude, had now turned to an immense
fatigue. His whole being was now like this room, grown cold, swept of
the filth of the morning, returned to its habitual correctness. What
was the good of a scandal? had anything really changed in his house?
His wife had simply taken another lover; that she had chosen him in the
family scarcely aggravated the fact; perhaps even it was an advantage,
for she thus preserved appearances. He pitied himself when he thought
of his mad jealousy. How ridiculous to have struck that bed with his
fists! Since he had tolerated another man, he could certainly tolerate
this one. It was only a matter of a little more contempt. A terrible
bitterness was poisoning his mouth, the uselessness of everything, the
eternal pain of existence, shame for himself who always adored and
desired this woman in the dirt in which he had abandoned her.

Beneath the window the yells broke out with increased violence:

"Bread! bread! bread!"

"Idiots!" said M. Hennebeau between his clenched teeth.

He heard them abusing him for his large salary, calling him a bloated
idler, a bloody beast who stuffed himself to indigestion with good
things, while the worker was dying of hunger. The women had noticed the
kitchen, and there was a tempest of imprecations against the pheasant
roasting there, against the sauces that with fat odours irritated their
empty stomachs. Ah! the stinking bourgeois, they should be stuffed with
champagne and truffles till their guts burst.

"Bread! bread! bread!"

"Idiots!" repeated M. Hennebeau; "am I happy?"

Anger arose in him against these people who could not understand. He
would willingly have made them a present of his large salary to possess
their hard skin and their facility of coupling without regret. Why
could he not seat them at his table and stuff them with his pheasant,
while he went to fornicate behind the hedges, to tumble the girls over,
making fun of those who had tumbled them over before him! He would have
given everything, his education, his comfort, his luxury, his power
as manager, if he could be for one day the vilest of the wretches who
obeyed him, free of his flesh, enough of a blackguard to beat his wife
and to take his pleasure with his neighbours' wives. And he longed also
to be dying of hunger, to have an empty belly, a stomach twisted by
cramps that would make his head turn with giddiness: perhaps that would
have killed the eternal pain. Ah! to live like a brute, to possess
nothing, to scour the fields with the ugliest and dirtiest putter, and
to be able to be happy!

"Bread! bread! bread!"

Then he grew angry and shouted furiously in the tumult:

"Bread! is that enough, idiots!"

He could eat, and all the same he was groaning with torment. His
desolate household, his whole wounded life, choked him at the throat
like a death agony. Things were not all for the best because one had
bread. Who was the fool who placed earthly happiness in the partition
of wealth? These revolutionary dreamers might demolish society and
rebuilt another society; they would not add one joy to humanity,
they would not take away one pain, by cutting bread-and-butter for
everybody. They would even enlarge the unhappiness of the earth; they
would one day make the very dogs howl with despair when they had taken
them out of the tranquil satisfaction of instinct, to raise them to the
unappeasable suffering of passion. No, the one good thing was not to
exist, and if one existed, to be a tree, a stone, less still, a grain
of sand, which cannot bleed beneath the heels of the passer-by.

And in this exasperation of his torment, tears swelled in M.
Hennebeau's eyes, and broke in burning drops on his cheeks. The
twilight was drowning the road when stones began to riddle the front
of the villa. With no anger now against these starving people, only
enraged by the burning wound at his heart he continued to stammer in
the midst of his tears:

"Idiots! idiots!"

But the cry of the belly dominated, and a roar blew like a tempest,
sweeping everything before it:

"Bread! bread! bread!"



CHAPTER VI


Sobered by Catherine's blows, Étienne had remained at the head of his
mates. But while he was hoarsely urging them on to Montsou, he heard
another voice within him, the voice of reason, asking, in astonishment,
the meaning of all this. He had not intended any of these things; how
had it happened that, having set out for Jean-Bart with the object of
acting calmly and preventing disaster, he had finished this day of
increasing violence by besieging the manager's villa?

He it certainly was, however, who had just cried, "Halt!" Only at first
his sole idea had been to protect the Company's Yards, which there had
been talk of sacking. And now that stones were already grazing the
facade of the villa, he sought in vain for some lawful prey on which to
throw the band, so as to avoid greater misfortunes. As he thus stood
alone, powerless, in the middle of the road, he was called by a man
standing on the threshold of the Estaminet Tison, where the landlady
had just put up the shutters in haste, leaving only the door free.

"Yes, it's me. Will you listen?"

It was Rasseneur. Some thirty men and women, nearly all belonging to
the settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante, who had remained at home in
the morning and had come in the evening for news, had invaded this
estaminet on the approach of the strikers. Zacharie occupied a table
with his wife, Philoméne. Farther on, Pierron and Pierronne, with their
backs turned, were hiding their faces. No one was drinking, they had
simply taken shelter.

Étienne recognized Rasseneur and was turning away, when the latter
added:

"You don't want to see me, eh? I warned you, things are getting
awkward. Now you may ask for bread, they'll give you lead."

Then Étienne came back and replied:

"What troubles me is, the cowards who fold their arms and watch us
risking our skins."

"Your notion, then, is to pillage over there?" asked Rasseneur.

"My notion is to remain to the last with our friends, quit by dying
together."

In despair, Étienne went back into the crowd, ready to die. On the
road, three children were throwing stones, and he gave them a good
kick, shouting out to his comrades that it was no good breaking windows.

Bébert and Lydie, who had rejoined Jeanlin, were learning from him how
to work the sling. They each sent a flint, playing at who could do the
most damage. Lydie had awkwardly cracked the head of a woman in the
crowd, and the two boys were loudly laughing. Bonnemort and Mouque,
seated on a bench, were gazing at them behind. Bonnemort's swollen legs
bore him so badly, that he had great difficulty in dragging himself
so far; no one knew what curiosity impelled him, for his face had the
earthy look of those days when he never spoke a word.

Nobody, however, any longer obeyed Étienne. The stones, in spite of his
orders, went on hailing, and he was astonished and terrified by these
brutes he had unmuzzled, who were so slow to move and then so terrible,
so ferociously tenacious in their rage. All the old Flemish blood was
there, heavy and placid, taking months to get heated, and then giving
itself up to abominable savagery, listening to nothing until the beast
was glutted by atrocities. In his southern land crowds flamed up more
quickly, but they did not effect so much. He had to struggle with
Levaque to obtain possession of his axe, and he knew not how to keep
back the Maheus, who were throwing flints with both hands. The women,
especially, terrified him--the Levaque, Mouquette, and the others--who
were agitated by murderous fury, with teeth and nails out, barking like
bitches, and driven on by Mother Brulé, whose lean figure dominated
them.

But there was a sudden stop; a moment's surprise brought a little of
that calmness which Étienne's supplications could not obtain. It was
simply the Grégoires, who had decided to bid farewell to the lawyer,
and to cross the road to the manager's house; and they seemed so
peaceful, they so clearly had the air of believing that the whole
thing was a joke on the part of their worthy miners, whose resignation
had nourished them for a century, that the latter, in fact, left off
throwing stones, for fear of hitting this old gentleman and old lady
who had fallen from the sky. They allowed them to enter the garden,
mount the steps, and ring at the barricaded door, which was by no means
opened in a hurry. Just then, Rose, the housemaid, was returning,
laughing at the furious workmen, all of whom she knew, for she belonged
to Montsou. And it was she who, by striking her fists against the
door, at last forced Hippolyte to set it ajar. It was time, for as the
Grégoires disappeared, the hail of stones began again. Recovering from
its astonishment, the crowd was shouting louder than ever:

"Death to the bourgeois! Hurrah for the people!"

Rose went on laughing, in the hall of the villa, as though amused by
the adventure, and repeated to the terrified man-servant:

"They're not bad-hearted; I know them."

M. Grégoire methodically hung up his hat. Then, when he had assisted
Madame Grégoire to draw off her thick cloth mantle, he said, in his
turn:

"Certainly, they have no malice at bottom. When they have shouted well
they will go home to supper with more appetite."

At this moment M. Hennebeau came down from the second floor. He had
seen the scene, and came to receive his guests in his usual cold and
polite manner. The pallor of his face alone revealed the grief which
had shaken him. The man was tamed; there only remained in him the
correct administrator resolved to do his duty.

"You know," he said, "the ladies have not yet come back."

For the first time some anxiety disturbed the Grégoires. Cécile not
come back! How could she come back now if the miners were to prolong
their joking?

"I thought of having the place cleared," added M. Hennebeau. "But the
misfortune is that I'm alone here, and, besides, I do not know where to
send my servant to bring me four men and a corporal to clear away this
mob."

Rose, who had remained there, ventured to murmur anew:

"Oh, sir! they are not bad-hearted!"

The manager shook his head, while the tumult increased outside, and
they could hear the dull crash of the stones against the house.

"I don't wish to be hard on them, I can even excuse them; one must be
as foolish as they are to believe that we are anxious to injure them.
But it is my duty to prevent disturbance. To think that there are
police all along the roads, as I am told, and that I have not been able
to see a single man since the morning!"

He interrupted himself, and drew back before Madame Grégoire, saying:

"Let me beg you, madame, do not stay here, come into the drawing-room."

But the cook, coming up from below in exasperation, kept them in the
hall a few minutes longer. She declared that she could no longer accept
any responsibility for the dinner, for she was expecting from the
Marchiennes pastrycook some _vol-au-vent_ crusts which she had
ordered for four o'clock. The pastrycook had evidently turned aside
on the road for fear of these bandits. Perhaps they had even pillaged
his hampers. She saw the _vol-au-vent_ blockaded behind a bush,
besieged, going to swell the bellies of the three thousand wretches
who were asking for bread. In any case, monsieur was warned; she would
rather pitch her dinner into the fire if it was to be spoilt because of
the revolt.

"Patience, patience," said M. Hennebeau. "All is not lost, the
pastrycook may come."

And as he turned toward Madame Grégoire, opening the drawing-room door
himself, he was much surprised to observe, seated on the hall bench, a
man whom he had not distinguished before in the deepening shade.

"What! you, Maigrat! what is it, then?"

Maigrat arose; his fat, pale face was changed by terror. He no longer
possessed his usual calm stolidity; he humbly explained that he had
slipped into the manager's house to ask for aid and protection should
the brigands attack his shop.

"You see that I am threatened myself, and that I have no one," replied
M. Hennebeau. "You would have done better to stay at home and guard
your property."

"Oh! I have put up iron bars and left my wife there."

The manager showed impatience, and did not conceal his contempt. A fine
guard, that poor creature worn out by blows!

"Well, I can do nothing; you must try to defend yourself. I advise you
to go back at once, for there they are again demanding bread. Listen!"

In fact, the tumult began again, and Maigrat thought he heard his own
name in the midst of the cries. To go back was no longer possible, they
would have torn him to pieces. Besides, the idea of his ruin overcame
him. He pressed his face to the glass panel of the door, perspiring and
trembling in anticipation of disaster, while the Grégoires decided to
go into the drawing-room.

M. Hennebeau quietly endeavoured to do the honours of his house. But
in vain he begged his guests to sit down; the close, barricaded room,
lighted by two lamps in the daytime, was filled with terror at each
new clamour from without. Amid the stuffy hangings the fury of the mob
rolled more disturbingly, with vague and terrible menace. They talked,
however, constantly brought back to this inconceivable revolt. He was
astonished at having foreseen nothing; and his information was so
defective that he specially talked against Rasseneur, whose detestable
influence, he said, he was able to recognize. Besides, the gendarmes
would come; it was impossible that he should be thus abandoned. As
to the Grégoires, they only thought about their daughter, the poor
darling who was so quickly frightened! Perhaps, in face of the peril,
the carriage had returned to Marchiennes. They waited on for another
quarter of an hour, worn out by the noise in the street, and by the
sound of the stones from time to time striking the closed shutters
which rang out like gongs. The situation was no longer bearable. M.
Hennebeau spoke of going out to chase away the brawlers by himself, and
to meet the carriage, when Hippolyte appeared, exclaiming:

"Sir! sir, here is madame! They are killing madame!"

The carriage had not been able to pass through the threatening groups
in the Réquillart lane. Négrel had carried out his idea, walking the
hundred metres which separated them from the house, and knocking at
the little door which led to the garden, near the common. The gardener
would hear them, for there was always someone there to open. And, at
first, things had gone perfectly; Madame Hennebeau and the young ladies
were already knocking when some women, who had been warned, rushed into
the lane. Then everything was spoilt. The door was not opened, and
Négrel in vain sought to burst it open with his shoulder. The rush of
women increased, and fearing they would be carried away, he adopted the
desperate method of pushing his aunt and the girls before him, in order
to reach the front steps, by passing through the besiegers. But this
manoeuvre led to a hustling. They were not left free, a shouting band
followed them, while the crowd floated up to right and to left, without
understanding, simply astonished at these dressed-up ladies lost in the
midst of the battle. At this moment the confusion was so great that
it led to one of those curious mistakes which can never be explained.
Lucie and Jeanne reached the steps, and slipped in through the door,
which the housemaid opened; Madame Hennebeau had succeeded in following
them, and behind them Négrel at last came in, and then bolted the door,
feeling sure that he had seen Cécile go in first. She was no longer
there, having disappeared on the way, so carried away by fear, that she
had turned her back to the house, and had moved of her own accord into
the thick of danger.

At once the cry arose:

"Hurrah for the people! Death to the bourgeois! To death with them!"

A few of those in the distance, beneath the veil which hid her face,
mistook her for Madame Hennebeau; others said she was a friend of the
manager's wife, the young wife of a neighbouring manufacturer who
was execrated by his men. And besides it mattered little, it was her
silk dress, her fur mantle, even the white feather in her hat, which
exasperated them. She smelled of perfume, she wore a watch, she had the
delicate skin of a lazy woman who had never touched coal.

"Stop!" shouted Mother Brulé, "we'll put it on your arse, that lace!"

"The lazy sluts steal it from us," said the Levaque. "They stick fur
on to their skins while we are dying of cold. Just strip her naked, to
show her how to live!"

At once Mouquette rushed forward.

"Yes, yes! whip her!"

And the women, in this savage rivalry, struggled and stretched out
their rags, as though each were trying to get a morsel of this rich
girl. No doubt her backside was not better made than any one else's.
More than one of them were rotten beneath their gewgaws. This injustice
had lasted quite long enough; they should be forced to dress themselves
like workwomen, these harlots who dared to spend fifty sous on the
washing of a single petticoat.

In the midst of these furies Cécile was shaking with paralysed legs,
stammering over and over again the same phrase:

"Ladies! please! please! Ladies, please don't hurt me!"

But she suddenly uttered a shrill cry; cold hands had seized her by
the neck. The rush had brought her near old Bonnemort, who had taken
hold of her. He seemed drunk from hunger, stupefied by his long misery,
suddenly arousing himself from the resignation of half a century, under
the influence of no one knew what malicious impulse. After having in
the course of his life saved a dozen mates from death, risking his
bones in fire-damps and landslips, he was yielding to things which he
would not have been able to express, compelled to do thus, fascinated
by this young girl's white neck. And as on this day he had lost his
tongue, he clenched his fingers, with his air of an old infirm animal
ruminating over his recollections.

"No! no!" yelled the women. "Uncover her arse! out with her arse!"

In the villa, as soon as they had realized the mishap, Négrel and M.
Hennebeau bravely reopened the door to run to Cécile's help. But the
crowd was now pressing against the garden railings, and it was not easy
to go out. A struggle took place here, while the Grégoires in terror
stood on the steps.

"Let her be then, old man! It's the Piolaine young lady," cried Maheude
to the grandfather, recognizing Cécile, whose veil had been torn off by
one of the women.

On his side, Étienne, overwhelmed at this retaliation on a child, was
trying to force the band to let go their prey. An inspiration came to
him; he brandished the axe, which he had snatched from Levaque's hands.

"To Maigrat's house, by God! there's bread in there! Down to the earth
with Maigrat's damned shed!"

And at random he gave the first blow of the axe against the shop door.
Some comrades had followed him--Levaque, Maheu, and a few others. But
the women were furious, and Cécile had fallen from Bonnemort's fingers
into Mother Brulé's hands. Lydie and Bébert, led by Jeanlin, had
slipped on all fours between her petticoats to see the lady's bottom.
Already the women were pulling her about; her clothes were beginning
to split, when a man on horseback appeared, pushing on his animal, and
using his riding-whip on those who would not stand back quick enough.

"Ah! rascals! You are going to flog our daughters, are you?"

It was Deneulin who had come to the rendezvous for dinner. He quickly
jumped on to the road, took Cécile by the waist, and, with the other
hand manipulating his horse with remarkable skill and strength, he used
it as a living wedge to split the crowd, which drew back before the
onset. At the railing the battle continued. He passed through, however,
with some bruises. This unforeseen assistance delivered Négrel and M.
Hennebeau, who were in great danger amid the oaths and blows. And while
the young man at last led in the fainting Cécile, Deneulin protected
the manager with his tall body, and at the top of the steps received a
stone which nearly put his shoulder out.

"That's it," he cried; "break my bones now you've broken my engines!"

He promptly pushed the door to, and a volley of flints fell against it.

"What madmen!" he exclaimed. "Two seconds more, and they would have
broken my skull like an empty gourd. There is nothing to say to them;
what could you do? They know nothing, you can only knock them down."

In the drawing-room, the Grégoires were weeping as they watched Cécile
recover. She was not hurt, there was not even a scratch to be seen,
only her veil was lost. But their fright increased when they saw before
them their cook, Mélanie, who described how the mob had demolished
Piolaine. Mad with fear she had run to warn her masters. She had come
in when the door was ajar at the moment of the fray, without any one
noticing her; and in her endless narrative the single stone with which
Jeanlin had broken one window-pane became a regular cannonade which had
crushed through the walls. Then M. Grégoire's ideas were altogether
upset: they were murdering his daughter, they were razing his house to
the ground; it was, then, true that these miners could bear him ill
will, because he lived like a worthy man on their labour?

The housemaid, who had brought in a towel and some eau-de-Cologne,
repeated:

"All the same it's queer, they're not bad-hearted."

Madame Hennebeau, seated and very pale, had not recovered from the
shock to her feelings; and she was only able to find a smile when
Négrel was complimented. Cécile's parents especially thanked the young
man, and the marriage might now be regarded as settled. M. Hennebeau
looked on in silence, turning from his wife to this lover whom in the
morning he had been swearing to kill, then to this young girl by whom
he would, no doubt, soon be freed from him. There was no haste, only
the fear remained with him of seeing his wife fall lower, perhaps to
some lackey.

"And you, my little darlings," asked Deneulin of his daughters; "have
they broken any of your bones?"

Lucie and Jeanne had been much afraid, but they were pleased to have
seen it all. They were now laughing.

"By George!" the father went on, "we've had a fine day! If you want a
dowry, you would do well to earn it yourselves, and you may also expect
to have to support me."

He was joking, but his voice trembled. His eyes swelled with tears as
his two daughters threw themselves into his arms.

M. Hennebeau had heard this confession of ruin. A quick thought lit up
his face. Vandame would now belong to Montsou; this was the hoped-for
compensation, the stroke of fortune which would bring him back to
favour with the gentlemen on the directorate. At every crisis of his
existence, he took refuge in the strict execution of the orders he had
received; in the military discipline in which he lived he found his
small share of happiness.

But they grew calm; the drawing-room fell back into a weary
peacefulness, with the quiet light of its two lamps, and the warm
stuffiness of the hangings. What, then, was going on outside? The
brawlers were silent, and stones no longer struck the house; one only
heard deep, full blows, those blows of the hatchet which one hears in
distant woods. They wished to find out, and went back into the hall to
venture a glance through the glass panel of the door. Even the ladies
went upstairs to post themselves behind the blinds on the first floor.

"Do you see that scoundrel, Rasseneur, over there on the threshold of
the public-house?" said M. Hennebeau to Deneulin. "I had guessed as
much; he must be in it."

It was not Rasseneur, however, it was Étienne, who was dealing blows
from his axe at Maigrat's shop. And he went on calling to the men; did
not the goods in there belong to the colliers? Had they not the right
to take back their property from this thief who had exploited them so
long, who was starving them at a hint from the Company? Gradually they
all left the manager's house, and ran up to pillage the neighbouring
shop. The cry, "Bread! bread! bread!" broke out anew. They would find
bread behind that door. The rage of hunger carried them away, as if
they suddenly felt that they could wait no longer without expiring on
the road. Such furious thrusts were made at the door that at every
stroke of the axe Étienne feared to wound someone.

Meanwhile Maigrat, who had left the hall of the manager's house, had
at first taken refuge in the kitchen; but, hearing nothing there, he
imagined some abominable attempt against his shop, and came up again
to hide behind the pump outside, when he distinctly heard the cracking
of the door and shouts of pillage in which his own name was mixed. It
was not a nightmare, then. If he could not see, he could now hear, and
he followed the attack with ringing ears; every blow struck him in the
heart. A hinge must have given way; five minutes more and the shop
would be taken. The thing was stamped on his brain in real and terrible
images--the brigands rushing forward, then the drawers broken open, the
sacks emptied, everything eaten, everything drunk, the house itself
carried away, nothing left, not even a stick with which he might go and
beg through the villages. No, he would never allow them to complete
his ruin; he would rather leave his life there. Since he had been here
he noticed at a window of his house his wife's thin silhouette, pale
and confused, behind the panes; no doubt she was watching the blows
with her usual silent air of a poor beaten creature. Beneath there was
a shed, so placed that from the villa garden one could climb it from
the palings; then it was easy to get on to the tiles up to the window.
And the idea of thus returning home now pursued him in his remorse at
having left. Perhaps he would have time to barricade the shop with
furniture; he even invented other and more heroic defences--boiling
oil, lighted petroleum, poured out from above. But this love of his
property struggled against his fear, and he groaned in the battle with
cowardice. Suddenly, on hearing a deeper blow of the axe, he made up
his mind. Avarice conquered; he and his wife would cover the sacks with
their bodies rather than abandon a single loaf.

Almost immediately hooting broke out:

"Look! look!--The tom-cat's up there! After the cat! after the cat!"

The mob had just seen Maigrat on the roof of the shed. In his fever of
anxiety he had climbed the palings with agility in spite of his weight,
and without troubling over the breaking wood; and now he was flattening
himself along the tiles, and endeavouring to reach the window. But the
slope was very steep; he was incommoded by his stoutness, and his nails
were torn. He would have dragged himself up, however, if he had not
begun to tremble with the fear of stones; for the crowd, which he could
not see, continued to cry beneath him:

"After the cat! after the cat!--Do for him!"

And suddenly both his hands let go at once, and he rolled down like a
ball, leapt at the gutter, and fell across the middle wall in such a
way that, by ill-chance, he rebounded on the side of the road, where
his skull was broken open on the corner of a stone pillar. His brain
had spurted out. He was dead. His wife up above, pale and confused
behind the window-panes, still looked out.

They were stupefied at first. Étienne stopped short, and the axe
slipped from his hands. Maheu, Levaque, and the others forgot the shop,
with their eyes fixed on the wall along which a thin red streak was
slowly flowing down. And the cries ceased, and silence spread over the
growing darkness.

All at once the hooting began again. It was the women, who rushed
forward overcome by the drunkenness of blood.

"Then there is a good God, after all! Ah! the bloody beast, he's done
for!"

They surrounded the still warm body. They insulted it with laughter,
abusing his fractured head, the dirty chops, hurling in the dead man's
face the long venom of their starved lives.

"I owed you sixty francs, now you're paid, thief!" said Maheude,
enraged like the others. "You won't refuse me credit any more. Wait!
wait! I must fatten you once more!"

With her fingers she scratched up some earth, took two handfuls and
stuffed it violently into his mouth.

"There! eat that! There! eat! eat! you used to eat us!"

The abuse increased, while the dead man, stretched on his back, gazed
motionless with his large fixed eyes at the immense sky from which the
night was falling. This earth heaped in his mouth was the bread he had
refused to give. And henceforth he would eat of no other bread. It had
not brought him luck to starve poor people.

But the women had another revenge to wreak on him. They moved round,
smelling him like she-wolves. They were all seeking for some outrage,
some savagery that would relieve them.

Mother Brulé's shrill voice was heard: "Cut him like a tom-cat!"

"Yes, yes, after the cat! after the cat! He's done too much, the dirty
beast!"

Mouquette was already unfastening and drawing off the trousers, while
the Levaque woman raised the legs. And Mother Brulé with her dry old
hands separated the naked thighs and seized this dead virility. She
took hold of everything, tearing with an effort which bent her lean
spine and made her long arms crack. The soft skin resisted; she had to
try again, and at last carried away the fragment, a lump of hairy and
bleeding flesh, which she brandished with a laugh of triumph.

"I've got it! I've got it!"

Shrill voices saluted with curses the abominable trophy.

"Ah! swine! you won't fill our daughters any more!"

"Yes! we've done with paying on your beastly body; we shan't any more
have to offer a backside in return for a loaf."

"Here, I owe you six francs; would you like to settle it? I'm quite
willing, if you can do it still!"

This joke shook them all with terrible gaiety. They showed each other
the bleeding fragment as an evil beast from which each of them had
suffered, and which they had at last crushed, and saw before them
there, inert, in their power. They spat on it, they thrust out their
jaws, saying over and over again, with furious bursts of contempt:

"He can do no more! he can do no more!--It's no longer a man that
they'll put away in the earth. Go and rot then, good-for-nothing!"

Mother Brulé then planted the whole lump on the end of her stick, and
holding it in the air, bore it about like a banner, rushing along the
road, followed, helter-skelter, by the yelling troop of women. Drops
of blood rained down, and that pitiful flesh hung like a waste piece
of meat on a butcher's stall. Up above, at the window, Madame Maigrat
still stood motionless; but beneath the last gleams of the setting
sun, the confused flaws of the window-panes distorted her white face
which looked as though it were laughing. Beaten and deceived at every
hour, with shoulders bent from morning to night over a ledger, perhaps
she was laughing, while the band of women rushed along with that evil
beast, that crushed beast, at the end of the stick.

This frightful mutilation was accomplished in frozen horror. Neither
Étienne nor Maheu nor the others had had time to interfere; they stood
motionless before this gallop of furies. At the door of the Estaminet
Tison a few heads were grouped--Rasseneur pale with disgust, Zacharie
and Philoméne stupefied at what they had seen. The two old men,
Bonnemort and Mouque, were gravely shaking their heads. Only Jeanlin
was making fun, pushing Bébert with his elbow, and forcing Lydie to
look up. But the women were already coming back, turning round and
passing beneath the manager's windows. Behind the blinds the ladies
were stretching out their necks. They had not been able to observe
the scene, which was hidden from them by the wall, and they could not
distinguish well in the growing darkness.

"What is it they have at the end of that stick?" asked Cécile, who had
grown bold enough to look out.

Lucie and Jeanne declared that it must be a rabbit-skin.

"No, no," murmured Madame Hennebeau, "they must have been pillaging a
pork butcher's, it seems to be a remnant of a pig."

At this moment she shuddered and was silent. Madame Grégoire had nudged
her with her knee. They both remained stupefied. The young ladies, who
were very pale, asked no more questions, but with large eyes followed
this red vision through the darkness.

Étienne once more brandished the axe. But the feeling of anxiety did
not disappear; this corpse now barred the road and protected the shop.
Many had drawn back. Satiety seemed to have appeased them all. Maheu
was standing by gloomily, when he heard a voice whisper in his ear to
escape. He turned round and recognized Catherine, still in her old
overcoat, black and panting. With a movement he repelled her. He would
not listen to her, he threatened to strike her. With a gesture of
despair she hesitated, and then ran towards Étienne.

"Save yourself! save yourself! the gendarmes are coming!"

He also pushed her away and abused her, feeling the blood of the
blows she had given him mounting to his cheeks. But she would not be
repelled; she forced him to throw down the axe, and drew him away by
both arms, with irresistible strength.

"Don't I tell you the gendarmes are coming! Listen to me. It's Chaval
who has gone for them and is bringing them, if you want to know. It's
too much for me, and I've come. Save yourself, I don't want them to
take you."

And Catherine drew him away, while, at the same instant, a heavy gallop
shook the street from afar. Immediately a voice arose: "The gendarmes!
the gendarmes!" There was a general breaking up, so mad a rush for life
that in two minutes the road was free, absolutely clear, as though
swept by a hurricane. Maigrat's corpse alone made a patch of shadow on
the white earth. Before the Estaminet Tison, Rasseneur only remained,
feeling relieved, and with open face applauding the easy victory of the
sabres; while in dim and deserted Montsou, in the silence of the closed
houses, the bourgeois remained with perspiring skins and chattering
teeth, not daring to look out. The plain was drowned beneath the thick
night, only the blast furnaces and the coke furnaces were burning
against the tragic sky. The gallop of the gendarmes heavily approached;
they came up in an indistinguishable sombre mass. And behind them the
Marchiennes pastrycook's vehicle, a little covered cart which had been
confided to their care, at last arrived, and a small drudge of a boy
jumped down and quietly unpacked the crusts for the _vol-au-vent_.



PART SIX



CHAPTER I


The first fortnight of February passed and a black cold prolonged
the hard winter without pity for the poor. Once more the authorities
had scoured the roads; the prefect of Lille, an attorney, a general,
and the police were not sufficient, the military had come to occupy
Montsou; a whole regiment of men were camped between Beaugnies and
Marchiennes. Armed pickets guarded the pits, and there were soldiers
before every engine. The manager's villa, the Company's Yards, even
the houses of certain residents, were bristling with bayonets. Nothing
was heard along the streets but the slow movement of patrols. On the
pit-bank of the Voreux a sentinel was always placed in the frozen wind
that blew up there, like a look-out man above the flat plain; and every
two hours, as though in an enemy's country, were heard the sentry's
cries:

"_Qui vive?_--Advance and give the password!"

Nowhere had work been resumed. On the contrary, the strike had spread;
Crévecoeur, Mirou, Madeleine, like the Voreux, were producing nothing;
at Feutry-Cantel and the Victoire there were fewer men every morning;
even at Saint-Thomas, which had been hitherto exempt, men were wanting.
There was now a silent persistence in the face of this exhibition of
force which exasperated the miners' pride. The settlements looked
deserted in the midst of the beetroot fields. Not a workman stirred,
only at rare intervals was one to be met by chance, isolated, with
sidelong look, lowering his head before the red trousers. And in this
deep melancholy calm, in this passive opposition to the guns, there was
a deceptive gentleness, a forced and patient obedience of wild beasts
in a cage, with their eyes on the tamer, ready to spring on his neck if
he turned his back. The Company, who were being ruined by this death
of work, talked of hiring miners from the Borinage, on the Belgian
frontier, but did not dare; so that the battle continued as before
between the colliers, who were shut up at home, and the dead pits
guarded by soldiery.

On the morrow of that terrible day this calm had come about at once,
hiding such a panic that the greatest silence possible was kept
concerning the damage and the atrocities. The inquiry which had been
opened showed that Maigrat had died from his fall, and the frightful
mutilation of the corpse remained uncertain, already surrounded by a
legend. On its side, the Company did not acknowledge the disasters it
had suffered, any more than the Grégoires cared to compromise their
daughter in the scandal of a trial in which she would have to give
evidence. However, some arrests took place, mere supernumeraries as
usual, silly and frightened, knowing nothing. By mistake, Pierron was
taken off with handcuffs on his wrists as far as Marchiennes, to the
great amusement of his mates. Rasseneur, also, was nearly arrested
by two gendarmes. The management was content with preparing lists
of names and giving back certificates in large numbers. Maheu had
received his, Levaque also, as well as thirty-four of their mates in
the settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante alone. And all the severity
was directed against Étienne, who had disappeared on the evening of
the fray, and who was being sought, although no trace of him could be
found. Chaval, in his hatred, had denounced him, refusing to name the
others at Catherine's appeal, for she wished to save her parents. The
days passed, every one felt that nothing was yet concluded; and with
oppressed hearts every one was awaiting the end.

At Montsou, during this period, the inhabitants awoke with a start
every night, their ears buzzing with an imaginary alarm-bell and their
nostrils haunted by the smell of powder. But what completed their
discomfiture was a sermon by the new curé, Abbé Ranvier, that lean
priest with eyes like red-hot coals who had succeeded Abbé Joire. He
was indeed unlike the smiling discreet man, so fat and gentle, whose
only anxiety was to live at peace with everybody. Abbé Ranvier went
so far as to defend these abominable brigands who had dishonoured the
district. He found excuses for the atrocities of the strikers; he
violently attacked the middle class, throwing on them the whole of
the responsibility. It was the middle class which, by dispossessing
the Church of its ancient liberties in order to misuse them itself,
had turned this world into a cursed place of injustice and suffering;
it was the middle class which prolonged misunderstandings, which was
pushing on towards a terrible catastrophe by its atheism, by its
refusal to return to the old beliefs, to the fraternity of the early
Christians. And he dared to threaten the rich. He warned them that if
they obstinately persisted in refusing to listen to the voice of God,
God would surely put Himself on the side of the poor. He would take
back their fortunes from those who faithlessly enjoyed them, and would
distribute them to the humble of the earth for the triumph of His
glory. The devout trembled at this; the lawyer declared that it was
Socialism of the worst kind; all saw the curé at the head of a band,
brandishing a cross, and with vigorous blows demolishing the bourgeois
society of '89.

M. Hennebeau, when informed, contented himself with saying, as he
shrugged his shoulders:

"If he troubles us too much the bishop will free us from him."

And while the breath of panic was thus blowing from one end of the
plain to the other, Étienne was dwelling beneath the earth, in
Jeanlin's burrow at the bottom of Réquillart. It was there that he was
in hiding; no one believed him so near; the quiet audacity of that
refuge, in the very mine, in that abandoned passage of the old pit,
had baffled search. Above, the sloes and hawthorns growing among the
fallen scaffolding of the belfry filled up the mouth of the hole. No
one ventured down; it was necessary to know the trick--how to hang on
to the roots of the mountain ash and to let go fearlessly, to catch
hold of the rungs that were still solid. Other obstacles also protected
him, the suffocating heat of the passage, a hundred and twenty metres
of dangerous descent, then the painful gliding on all fours for a
quarter of a league between the narrowed walls of the gallery before
discovering the brigand's cave full of plunder. He lived there in the
midst of abundance, finding gin there, the rest of the dried cod, and
provisions of all sorts. The large hay bed was excellent, and not a
current of air could be felt in this equal temperature, as warm as a
bath. Light, however, threatened to fail. Jeanlin, who had made himself
purveyor, with the prudence and discretion of a savage and delighted
to make fun of the police, had even brought him pomatum, but could not
succeed in putting his hands on a packet of candles.

After the fifth day Étienne never lighted up except to eat. He could
not swallow in the dark. This complete and interminable night, always
of the same blackness, was his chief torment. It was in vain that he
was able to sleep in safety, that he was warm and provided with bread,
the night had never weighed so heavily on his brain. It seemed to him
even to crush his thoughts. Now he was living on thefts. In spite of
his communistic theories, old scruples of education arose, and he
contented himself with gnawing his share of dry bread. But what was to
be done? One must live, and his task was not yet accomplished. Another
shame overcame him: remorse for that savage drunkenness from the gin,
drunk in the great cold on an empty stomach, which had thrown him,
armed with a knife, on Chaval. This stirred in him the whole of that
unknown terror, the hereditary ill, the long ancestry of drunkenness,
no longer tolerating a drop of alcohol without falling into homicidal
mania. Would he then end as a murderer? When he found himself in
shelter, in this profound calm of the earth, seized by satiety of
violence, he had slept for two days the sleep of a brute, gorged and
overcome; and the depression continued, he lived in a bruised state
with bitter mouth and aching head, as after some tremendous spree. A
week passed by; the Maheus, who had been warned, were not able to send
a candle; he had to give up the enjoyment of light, even when eating.

Now Étienne remained for hours stretched out on his hay. Vague ideas
were working within him for the first time: a feeling of superiority,
which placed him apart from his mates, an exaltation of his person
as he grew more instructed. Never had he reflected so much; he
asked himself the why of his disgust on the morrow of that furious
course among the pits; and he did not dare to reply to himself, his
recollections were repulsive to him, the ignoble desires, the coarse
instincts, the odour of all that wretchedness shaken out to the wind.
In spite of the torment of the darkness, he would come to hate the hour
for returning to the settlement. How nauseous were all these wretches
in a heap, living at the common bucket! There was not one with whom he
could seriously talk politics; it was a bestial existence, always the
same air tainted by onion, in which one choked! He wished to enlarge
their horizon, to raise them to the comfort and good manners of the
middle class, by making them masters; but how long it would take!
and he no longer felt the courage to await victory, in this prison
of hunger. By slow degrees his vanity of leadership, his constant
preoccupation of thinking in their place, left him free, breathing into
him the soul of one of those bourgeois whom he execrated.

Jeanlin one evening brought a candle-end, stolen from a carter's
lantern, and this was a great relief for Étienne. When the darkness
began to stupefy him, weighing on his skull almost to madness, he
would light up for a moment; then, as soon as he had chased away the
nightmare, he extinguished the candle, miserly of this brightness which
was as necessary to his life as bread. The silence buzzed in his ears,
he only heard the flight of a band of rats, the cracking of the old
timber, the tiny sound of a spider weaving her web. And with eyes open,
in this warm nothingness, he returned to his fixed idea--the thought
of what his mates were doing above. Desertion on his part would have
seemed to him the worst cowardice. If he thus hid himself, it was to
remain free, to give counsel or to act. His long meditations had fixed
his ambition. While awaiting something better he would like to be
Pluchart, leaving manual work in order to work only at politics, but
alone, in a clean room, under the pretext that brain labour absorbs the
entire life and needs quiet.

At the beginning of the second week, the child having told him that
the police supposed he had gone over to Belgium, Étienne ventured out
of his hole at nightfall. He wished to ascertain the situation, and
to decide if it was still well to persist. He himself considered the
game doubtful. Before the strike he felt uncertain of the result, and
had simply yielded to facts; and now, after having been intoxicated
with rebellion, he came back to this first doubt, despairing of making
the Company yield. But he would not yet confess this to himself; he
was tortured when he thought of the miseries of defeat, and the heavy
responsibility of suffering which would weigh upon him. The end of the
strike: was it not the end of his part, the overthrow of his ambition,
his life falling back into the brutishness of the mine and the horrors
of the settlement? And honestly, without any base calculation or
falsehood, he endeavoured to find his faith again, to prove to himself
that resistance was still possible, that Capital was about to destroy
itself in face of the heroic suicide of Labour.

Throughout the entire country, in fact, there was nothing but a long
echo of ruin. At night, when he wandered through the black country,
like a wolf who has come out of his forest, he seemed to hear the crash
of bankruptcies from one end of the plain to the other. He now passed
by the roadside nothing but closed dead workshops, becoming rotten
beneath the dull sky. The sugar works had especially suffered: the
Hoton sugar works, the Fauvelle works, after having reduced the number
of their hands, had come to grief one after the other. At the Dutilleul
flour works the last mill had stopped on the second Saturday of the
month, and the Bleuze rope works, for mine cables, had been quite
ruined by the strike. On the Marchiennes side the situation was growing
worse every day. All the fires were out at the Gagebois glass works,
men were continually being sent away from the Sonneville workshops,
only one of the three blast furnaces of the Forges was alight, and not
one battery of coke ovens was burning on the horizon. The strike of the
Montsou colliers, born of the industrial crisis which had been growing
worse for two years, had increased it and precipitated the downfall.
To the other causes of suffering--the stoppage of orders from America,
and the engorgement of invested capital in excessive production--was
now added the unforeseen lack of coal for the few furnaces which were
still kept up; and that was the supreme agony, this engine bread which
the pits no longer furnished. Frightened by the general anxiety, the
Company, by diminishing its output and starving its miners, inevitably
found itself at the end of December without a fragment of coal at
the surface of its pits. Everything held together, the plague blew
from afar, one fall led to another; the industries tumbled each other
over as they fell, in so rapid a series of catastrophes that the
shocks echoed in the midst of the neighbouring cities, Lille, Douai,
Valenciennes, where absconding bankers were bringing ruin on whole
families.

At the turn of a road Étienne often stopped in the frozen night to
hear the rubbish raining down. He breathed deeply in the darkness,
the joy of annihilation seized him, the hope that day would dawn on
the extermination of the old world, with not a single fortune left
standing, the scythe of equality levelling everything to the ground.
But in this massacre it was the Company's pits that especially
interested him. He would continue his walk, blinded by the darkness,
visiting them one after the other, glad to discover some new disaster.
Landslips of increasing gravity continued to occur on account of the
prolonged abandonment of the passages. Above the north gallery of
Mirou the ground sank in to such an extent, that the Joiselle road,
for the distance of a hundred metres, had been swallowed up as though
by the shock of an earthquake; and the Company, disturbed at the
rumours raised by these accidents, paid the owners for their vanished
fields without bargaining. Crévecoeur and Madeleine, which lay in very
shifting rock, were becoming stopped up more and more. It was said that
two captains had been buried at the Victoire; there was an inundation
at Feutry-Cantel, it had been necessary to wall up a gallery for the
length of a kilometre at Saint-Thomas, where the ill-kept timbering
was breaking down everywhere. Thus every hour enormous sums were
spent, making great breaches in the shareholders' dividends; a rapid
destruction of the pits was going on, which must end at last by eating
up the famous Montsou deniers which had been centupled in a century.

In the face of these repeated blows, hope was again born in Étienne;
he came to believe that a third month of resistance would crush the
monster--the weary, sated beast, crouching down there like an idol
in his unknown tabernacle. He knew that after the Montsou troubles
there had been great excitement in the Paris journals, quite a violent
controversy between the official newspapers and the opposition
newspapers, terrible narratives, which were especially directed against
the International, of which the empire was becoming afraid after having
first encouraged it; and the directors not daring to turn a deaf ear
any longer, two of them had condescended to come and hold an inquiry,
but with an air of regret, not appearing to care about the upshot; so
disinterested, that in three days they went away again, declaring that
everything was going on as well as possible. He was told, however, from
other quarters that during their stay these gentlemen sat permanently,
displaying feverish activity, and absorbed in transactions of which
no one about them uttered a word. And he charged them with affecting
confidence they did not feel, and came to look upon their departure as
a nervous flight, feeling now certain of triumph since these terrible
men were letting everything go.

But on the following night Étienne despaired again. The Company's
back was too robust to be so easily broken; they might lose millions,
but later on they would get them back again by gnawing at their men's
bread. On that night, having pushed as far as Jean-Bart, he guessed
the truth when an overseer told him that there was talk of yielding
Vandame to Montsou. At Deneulin's house, it was said, the wretchedness
was pitiful, the wretchedness of the rich; the father ill in his
powerlessness, aged by his anxiety over money, the daughters struggling
in the midst of tradesmen, trying to save their shifts. There was
less suffering in the famished settlements than in this middle-class
house where they shut themselves up to drink water. Work had not been
resumed at Jean-Bart, and it had been necessary to replace the pump
at Gaston-Marie; while, in spite of all haste, an inundation had
already begun which made great expenses necessary. Deneulin had at
last risked his request for a loan of one hundred thousand francs from
the Grégoires, and the refusal, though he had expected it, completed
his dejection: if they refused, it was for his sake, in order to save
him from an impossible struggle; and they advised him to sell. He, as
usual, violently refused. It enraged him to have to pay the expenses of
the strike; he hoped at first to die of it, with the blood at his head,
strangled by apoplexy. Then what was to be done? He had listened to the
directors' offers. They wrangled with him, they depreciated this superb
prey, this repaired pit, equipped anew, where the lack of capital alone
paralysed the output. He would be lucky if he got enough out of it
to satisfy his creditors. For two days he had struggled against the
directors at Montsou, furious at the quiet way with which they took
advantage of his embarrassment and shouting his refusals at them in
his loud voice. And there the affair remained, and they had returned
to Paris to await patiently his last groans. Étienne smelled out this
compensation for the disasters, and was again seized by discouragement
before the invincible power of the great capitalists, so strong in
battle that they fattened in defeat by eating the corpses of the small
capitalists who fell at their side.

The next day, fortunately, Jeanlin brought him a piece of good news. At
the Voreux the tubbing of the shaft was threatening to break, and the
water was filtering in from all the joints; in great haste a gang of
carpenters had been set on to repair it.

Up to now Étienne had avoided the Voreux, warned by the everlasting
black silhouette of the sentinel stationed on the pit-bank above the
plain. He could not be avoided, he dominated in the air, like the flag
of the regiment. Towards three o'clock in the morning the sky became
overcast, and he went to the pit, where some mates explained to him
the bad condition of the tubbing; they even thought that it would have
to be done entirely over again, which would stop the output of coal
for three months. For a long time he prowled round, listening to the
carpenters' mallets hammering in the shaft. That wound which had to be
dressed rejoiced his heart.

As he went back in the early daylight, he saw the sentinel still on the
pit-bank. This time he would certainly be seen. As he walked he thought
about those soldiers who were taken from the people, to be armed
against the people. How easy the triumph of the revolution would be if
the army were suddenly to declare for it! It would be enough if the
workman and the peasant in the barracks were to remember their origin.
That was the supreme peril, the great terror, which made the teeth of
the middle class chatter when they thought of a possible defection of
the troops. In two hours they would be swept away and exterminated
with all the delights and abominations of their iniquitous life. It
was already said that whole regiments were tainted with Socialism.
Was it true? When justice came, would it be thanks to the cartridges
distributed by the middle class? And snatching at another hope, the
young man dreamed that the regiment, with its posts, now guarding the
pits, would come over to the side of the strikers, shoot down the
Company to a man, and at last give the mine to the miners.

He then noticed that he was ascending the pit-bank, his head filled
with these reflections. Why should he not talk with this soldier? He
would get to know what his ideas were. With an air of indifference, he
continued to come nearer, as though he were gleaning old wood among the
rubbish. The sentinel remained motionless.

"Eh! mate! damned weather," said Étienne, at last. "I think we shall
have snow."

He was a small soldier, very fair, with a pale, gentle face covered
with red freckles. He wore his military great-coat with the awkwardness
of a recruit.

"Yes, perhaps we shall, I think," he murmured.

And with his blue eyes he gazed at the livid sky, the smoky dawn, with
soot weighing like lead afar over the plain.

"What idiots they are to put you here to freeze!" Étienne went on. "One
would think the Cossacks were coming! And then there's always wind
here."

The little soldier shivered without complaining. There was certainly
a little cabin of dry stones there, where old Bonnemort used to take
shelter when it blew a hurricane, but the order being not to leave the
summit of the pit-bank, the soldier did not stir from it, his hands so
stiffened by cold that he could no longer feel his weapon. He belonged
to the guard of sixty men who were protecting the Voreux, and as this
cruel sentry-duty frequently came round, he had before nearly stayed
there for good with his dead feet. His work demanded it; a passive
obedience finished the benumbing process, and he replied to these
questions with the stammered words of a sleepy child.

Étienne in vain endeavoured during a quarter of an hour to make
him talk about politics. He replied "yes" or "no" without seeming
to understand. Some of his comrades said that the captain was a
republican; as to him, he had no idea--it was all the same to him.
If he was ordered to fire, he would fire, so as not to be punished.
The workman listened, seized with the popular hatred against the
army--against these brothers whose hearts were changed by sticking a
pair of red pantaloons on to their buttocks.

"Then what's your name?"

"Jules."

"And where do you come from?"

"From Plogof, over there."

He stretched out his arm at random. It was in Brittany, he knew no
more. His small pale face grew animated. He began to laugh, and felt
warmer.

"I have a mother and a sister. They are waiting for me, sure enough.
Ah! it won't be for to-morrow. When I left, they came with me as far as
Pont-l'Abbé. We had to take the horse to Lepalmec: it nearly broke its
legs at the bottom of the Audierne Hill. Cousin Charles was waiting for
us with sausages, but the women were crying too much, and it stuck in
our throats. Good Lord! what a long way off our home is!"

His eyes grew moist, though he was still laughing. The desert moorland
of Plogof, that wild storm-beaten point of the Raz, appeared to him
beneath a dazzling sun in the rosy season of heather.

"Do you think," he asked, "if I'm not punished, that they'll give me a
month's leave in two years?"

Then Étienne talked about Provence, which he had left when he was quite
small. The daylight was growing, and flakes of snow began to fly in
the earthy sky. And at last he felt anxious on noticing Jeanlin, who
was prowling about in the midst of the bushes, stupefied to see him
up there. The child was beckoning to him. What was the good of this
dream of fraternizing with the soldiers? It would take years and years,
and his useless attempt cast him down as though he had expected to
succeed. But suddenly he understood Jeanlin's gesture. The sentinel was
about to be relieved, and he went away, running off to bury himself at
Réquillart, his heart crushed once more by the certainty of defeat;
while the little scamp who ran beside him was accusing that dirty beast
of a trooper of having called out the guard to fire at them.

On the summit of the pit-bank Jules stood motionless, with eyes
vacantly gazing at the falling snow. The sergeant was approaching with
his men, and the regulation cries were exchanged.

"_Qui vive?_--Advance and give the password!"

And they heard the heavy steps begin again, ringing as though on a
conquered country. In spite of the growing daylight, nothing stirred
in the settlements; the colliers remained in silent rage beneath the
military boot.



CHAPTER II


Snow had been falling for two days; since the morning it had ceased,
and an intense frost had frozen the immense sheet. This black country,
with its inky roads and walls and trees powdered with coal dust,
was now white, a single whiteness stretching out without end. The
Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement lay beneath the snow as though it had
disappeared. No smoke came out of the chimneys; the houses, without
fire and as cold as the stones in the street, did not melt the thick
layer on the tiles. It was nothing more than a quarry of white slabs
in the white plain, a vision of a dead village wound in its shroud.
Along the roads the passing patrols alone made a muddy mess with their
stamping.

Among the Maheus the last shovelful of cinders had been burnt the
evening before, and it was no use any longer to think of gleaning on
the pit-bank in this terrible weather, when the sparrows themselves
could not find a blade of grass. Alzire, from the obstinacy with which
her poor hands had dug in the snow, was dying. Maheude had to wrap her
up in the fragment of a coverlet while waiting for Dr. Vanderhaghen,
for whom she had twice gone out without being able to find him. The
servant had, however, promised that he would come to the settlement
before night, and the mother was standing at the window watching, while
the little invalid, who had wished to be downstairs, was shivering
on a chair, having the illusion that it was better there near the
cold grate. Old Bonnemort opposite, his legs bad once more, seemed
to be sleeping; neither Lénore nor Henri had come back from scouring
the roads, in company with Jeanlin, to ask for sous. Maheu alone was
walking heavily up and down the bare room, stumbling against the wall
at every turn, with the stupid air of an animal which can no longer see
its cage. The petroleum also was finished; but the reflection of the
snow from outside was so bright that it vaguely lit up the room, in
spite of the deepening night.

There was a noise of sabots, and the Levaque woman pushed open the
door like a gale of wind, beside herself, shouting furiously from the
threshold at Maheude:

"Then it's you who have said that I forced my lodger to give me twenty
sous when he sleeps with me?"

The other shrugged her shoulders.

"Don't bother me. I said nothing; and who told you so?"

"They tell me you said so; it doesn't concern you who it was. You even
said you could hear us at our dirty tricks behind the wall, and that
the filth gets into our house because I'm always on my back. Just tell
me you didn't say so, eh?"

Every day quarrels broke out as a result of the constant gossiping of
the women. Especially between those households which lived door to
door, squabbles and reconciliations took place every day. But never
before had such bitterness thrown them one against the other. Since the
strike hunger exasperated their rancour, so that they felt the need
of blows; an altercation between two gossiping women finished by a
murderous onset between their two men.

Just then Levaque arrived in his turn, dragging Bouteloup.

"Here's our mate; let him just say if he has given twenty sous to my
wife to sleep with her."

The lodger, hiding his timid gentleness in his great beard, protested
and stammered:

"Oh, that? No! Never anything! never!"

At once Levaque became threatening, and thrust his fist beneath Maheu's
nose.

"You know that won't do for me. If a man's got a wife like that, he
ought to knock her ribs in. If not, then you believe what she says."

"By God!" exclaimed Maheu, furious at being dragged out of his
dejection, "what is all this clatter again? Haven't we got enough to do
with our misery? Just leave me alone, damn you! or I'll let you know
it! And first, who says that my wife said so?"

"Who says so? Pierronne said so."

Maheude broke into a sharp laugh, and turning towards the Levaque woman:

"An! Pierronne, is it? Well! I can tell you what she told me. Yes, she
told me that you sleep with both your men--the one underneath and the
other on top!"

After that it was no longer possible to come to an understanding. They
all grew angry, and the Levaques, as a reply to the Maheus, asserted
that Pierronne had said a good many other things on their account; that
they had sold Catherine, that they were all rotten together, even to
the little ones, with a dirty disease caught by Étienne at the Volcan.

"She said that! She said that!" yelled Maheu. "Good! I'll go to her, I
will, and if she says that she said that, she shall feel my hand on her
chops!"

He was carried out of himself, and the Levaques followed him to see
what would happen, while Bouteloup, having a horror of disputes,
furtively returned home. Excited by the altercation, Maheude was also
going out, when a complaint from Alzire held her back. She crossed the
ends of the coverlet over the little one's quivering body, and placed
herself before the window, looking out vaguely. And that doctor, who
still delayed!

At the Pierrons' door Maheu and the Levaques met Lydie, who was
stamping in the snow. The house was closed, and a thread of light
came though a crack in a shutter. The child replied at first to their
questions with constraint: no, her father was not there, he had gone to
the washhouse to join Mother Brulé and bring back the bundle of linen.
Then she was confused, and would not say what her mother was doing.
At last she let out everything with a sly, spiteful laugh: her mother
had pushed her out of the door because M. Dansaert was there, and she
prevented them from talking. Since the morning he had been going about
the settlement with two policemen, trying to pick up workmen, imposing
on the weak, and announcing everywhere that if the descent did not take
place on Monday at the Voreux, the Company had decided to hire men from
the Borinage. And as the night came on he sent away the policemen,
finding Pierronne alone; then he had remained with her to drink a glass
of gin before a good fire.

"Hush! hold your tongue! We must see them," said Levaque, with a lewd
laugh. "We'll explain everything directly. Get off with you, youngster."

Lydie drew back a few steps while he put his eye to a crack in the
shutter. He stifled a low cry and his back bent with a quiver. In her
turn his wife looked through, but she said, as though taken by the
colic, that it was disgusting. Maheu, who had pushed her, wishing also
to see, then declared that he had had enough for his money. And they
began again, in a row, each taking his glance as at a peep-show. The
parlour, glittering with cleanliness, was enlivened by a large fire;
there were cakes on the table with a bottle and glasses, in fact quite
a feast. What they saw going on in there at last exasperated the two
men, who under other circumstances would have laughed over it for six
months. That she should let herself be stuffed up to the neck, with
her skirts in the air, was funny. But, good God! was it not disgusting
to do that in front of a great fire, and to get up one's strength with
biscuits, when the mates had neither a slice of bread nor a fragment of
coal?

"Here's father!" cried Lydie, running away.

Pierron was quietly coming back from the washhouse with the bundle of
linen on his shoulder. Maheu immediately addressed him:

"Here! they tell me that your wife says that I sold Catherine, and that
we are all rotten at home. And what do they pay you in your house, your
wife and the gentleman who is this minute wearing out her skin?"

The astonished Pierron could not understand, and Pierronne, seized
with fear on hearing the tumult of voices, lost her head and set the
door ajar to see what was the matter. They could see her, looking very
red, with her dress open and her skirt tucked up at her waist; while
Dansaert, in the background, was wildly buttoning himself up. The head
captain rushed away and disappeared trembling with fear that this story
would reach the manager's ears. Then there would be an awful scandal,
laughter, and hooting and abuse.

"You, who are always saying that other people are dirty!" shouted the
Levaque woman to Pierronne; "it's not surprising that you're clean when
you get the bosses to scour you."

"Ah! it's fine for her to talk!" said Levaque again. "Here's a trollop
who says that my wife sleeps with me and the lodger, one below and the
other above! Yes! yes! that's what they tell me you say."

But Pierronne, grown calm, held her own against this abuse, very
contemptuous in the assurance that she was the best looking and the
richest.

"I've said what I've said; just leave me alone, will you! What have my
affairs got to do with you, a pack of jealous creatures who want to get
over us because we are able to save up money! Get along! get along!
You can say what you like; my husband knows well enough why Monsieur
Dansaert was here."

Pierron, in fact, was furiously defending his wife. The quarrel turned.
They accused him of having sold himself, of being a spy, the Company's
dog; they charged him with shutting himself up, to gorge himself with
the good things with which the bosses paid him for his treachery.
In defence, he pretended that Maheu had slipped beneath his door a
threatening paper with two cross-bones and a dagger above. And this
necessarily ended in a struggle between the men, as the quarrels of the
women always did now that famine was enraging the mildest. Maheu and
Levaque rushed on Pierron with their fists, and had to be pulled off.

Blood was flowing from her son-in-law's nose, when Mother Brulé, in her
turn, arrived from the washhouse. When informed of what had been going
on, she merely said:

"The damned beast dishonours me!"

The road was becoming deserted, not a shadow spotted the naked
whiteness of the snow, and the settlement, falling back into its
death-like immobility, went on starving beneath the intense cold.

"And the doctor?" asked Maheu, as he shut the door.

"Not come," replied Maheude, still standing before the window.

"Are the little ones back?"

"No, not back."

Maheu again began his heavy walk from one wall to the other, looking
like a stricken ox. Father Bonnemort, seated stiffly on his chair, had
not even lifted his head. Alzire also had said nothing, and was trying
not to shiver, so as to avoid giving them pain; but in spite of her
courage in suffering, she sometimes trembled so much that one could
hear against the coverlet the quivering of the little invalid girl's
lean body, while with her large open eyes she stared at the ceiling,
from which the pale reflection of the white gardens lit up the room
like moonshine.

The emptied house was now in its last agony, having reached a final
stage of nakedness. The mattress ticks had followed the wool to the
dealers; then the sheets had gone, the linen, everything that could be
sold. One evening they had sold a handkerchief of the grandfather's for
two sous. Tears fell over each object of the poor household which had
to go, and the mother was still lamenting that one day she had carried
away in her skirt the pink cardboard box, her man's old present, as one
would carry away a child to get rid of it on some doorstep. They were
bare; they had only their skins left to sell, so worn-out and injured
that no one would have given a farthing for them. They no longer even
took the trouble to search, they knew that there was nothing left, that
they had come to the end of everything, that they must not hope even
for a candle, or a fragment of coal, or a potato, and they were waiting
to die, only grieved about the children, and revolted by the useless
cruelty that gave the little one a disease before starving it.

"At last! here he is!" said Maheude.

A black figure passed before the window. The door opened. But it was
not Dr. Vanderhaghen; they recognized the new curé, Abbé Ranvier, who
did not seem surprised at coming on this dead house, without light,
without fire, without bread. He had already been to three neighbouring
houses, going from family to family, seeking willing listeners, like
Dansaert with his two policemen; and at once he exclaimed, in his
feverish fanatic's voice:

"Why were you not at mass on Sunday, my children? You are wrong, the
Church alone can save you. Now promise me to come next Sunday."

Maheu, after staring at him, went on pacing heavily, without a word. It
was Maheude who replied:

"To mass, sir? What for? Isn't the good God making fun of us? Look
here! what has my little girl there done to Him, to be shaking with
fever? Hadn't we enough misery, that He had to make her ill too, just
when I can't even give her a cup of warm gruel?"

Then the priest stood and talked at length. He spoke of the strike,
this terrible wretchedness, this exasperated rancour of famine, with
the ardour of a missionary who is preaching to savages for the glory
of religion. He said that the Church was with the poor, that she would
one day cause justice to triumph by calling down the anger of God on
the iniquities of the rich. And that day would come soon, for the rich
had taken the place of God, and were governing without God, in their
impious theft of power. But if the workers desired the fair division
of the goods of the earth, they ought at once to put themselves in the
hands of the priests, just as on the death of Jesus the poor and the
humble grouped themselves around the apostles. What strength the pope
would have, what an army the clergy would have under them, when they
were able to command the numberless crowd of workers! In one week they
would purge the world of the wicked, they would chase away the unworthy
masters. Then, indeed, there would be a real kingdom of God, every
one recompensed according to his merits, and the law of labour as the
foundation for universal happiness.

Maheude, who was listening to him, seemed to hear Étienne, in those
autumn evenings when he announced to them the end of their evils. Only
she had always distrusted the cloth.

"That's very well, what you say there, sir," she replied, "but that's
because you no longer agree with the bourgeois. All our other curés
dined at the manager's, and threatened us with the devil as soon as we
asked for bread."

He began again, and spoke of the deplorable misunderstanding between
the Church and the people. Now, in veiled phrases, he hit at the
town curés, at the bishops, at the highly placed clergy, sated with
enjoyment, gorged with domination, making pacts with the liberal middle
class, in the imbecility of their blindness, not seeing that it was
this middle class which had dispossessed them of the empire of the
world. Deliverance would come from the country priests, who would all
rise to re-establish the kingdom of Christ, with the help of the poor;
and already he seemed to be at their head; he raised his bony form like
the chief of a band, a revolutionary of the gospel, his eyes so filled
with light that they illuminated the gloomy room. This enthusiastic
sermon lifted him to mystic heights, and the poor people had long
ceased to understand him.

"No need for so many words," growled Maheu suddenly. "You'd best begin
by bringing us a loaf."

"Come on Sunday to mass," cried the priest. "God will provide for
everything."

And he went off to catechize the Levaques in their turn, so carried
away by his dream of the final triumph of the Church, and so
contemptuous of facts, that he would thus go through the settlements
without charities, with empty hands amid this army dying of hunger,
being a poor devil himself who looked upon suffering as the spur to
salvation.

Maheu continued his pacing, and nothing was heard but his regular tramp
which made the floor tremble. There was the sound of a rust-eaten
pulley; old Bonnemort was spitting into the cold grate. Then the rhythm
of the feet began again. Alzire, weakened by fever, was rambling in a
low voice, laughing, thinking that it was warm and that she was playing
in the sun.

"Good gracious!" muttered Maheude, after having touched her cheeks,
"how she burns! I don't expect that damned beast now, the brigands must
have stopped him from coming."

She meant the doctor and the Company. She uttered a joyous exclamation,
however, when the door once more opened. But her arms fell back and she
remained standing still with gloomy face.

"Good evening," whispered Étienne, when he had carefully closed the
door.

He often came thus at night-time. The Maheus learnt his retreat after
the second day. But they kept the secret and no one in the settlement
knew exactly what had become of the young man. A legend had grown
up around him. People still believed in him and mysterious rumours
circulated: he would reappear with an army and chests full of gold; and
there was always the religious expectation of a miracle, the realized
ideal, a sudden entry into that city of justice which he had promised
them. Some said they had seen him lying back in a carriage, with three
other gentlemen, on the Marchiennes road; others affirmed that he was
in England for a few days. At length, however, suspicions began to
arise and jokers accused him of hiding in a cellar, where Mouquette
kept him warm; for this relationship, when known, had done him harm.
There was a growing disaffection in the midst of his popularity, a
gradual increase of the despairing among the faithful, and their number
was certain, little by little, to grow.

"What brutal weather!" he added. "And you--nothing new, always from bad
to worse? They tell me that little Négrel has been to Belgium to get
Borains. Good God! we are done for if that is true!"

He shuddered as he entered this dark icy room, where it was some time
before his eyes were able to see the unfortunate people whose presence
he guessed by the deepening of the shade. He was experiencing the
repugnance and discomfort of the workman who has risen above his class,
refined by study and stimulated by ambition. What wretchedness! and
odours! and the bodies in a heap! And a terrible pity caught him by the
throat. The spectacle of this agony so overcame him that he tried to
find words to advise submission.

But Maheu came violently up to him, shouting:

"Borains! They won't dare, the bloody fools! Let the Borains go down,
then, if they want us to destroy the pits!"

With an air of constraint, Étienne explained that it was not possible
to move, that the soldiers who guarded the pits would protect the
descent of the Belgian workmen. And Maheu clenched his fists, irritated
especially, as he said, by having bayonets in his back. Then the
colliers were no longer masters in their own place? They were treated,
then, like convicts, forced to work by a loaded musket! He loved his
pit, it was a great grief to him not to have been down for two months.
He was driven wild, therefore, at the idea of this insult, these
strangers whom they threatened to introduce. Then the recollection that
his certificate had been given back to him struck him to the heart.

"I don't know why I'm angry," he muttered. "I don't belong to their
shop any longer. When they have hunted me away from here, I may as well
die on the road."

"As to that," said Étienne, "if you like, they'll take your certificate
back to-morrow. People don't send away good workmen."

He interrupted himself, surprised to hear Alzire, who was laughing
softly in the delirium of her fever. So far he had only made out Father
Bonnemort's stiff shadow, and this gaiety of the sick child frightened
him. It was indeed too much if the little ones were going to die of it.
With trembling voice he made up his mind.

"Look here! this can't go on, we are done for. We must give it up."

Maheude, who had been motionless and silent up to now, suddenly broke
out, and treating him familiarly and swearing like a man, she shouted
in his face:

"What's that you say? It's you who say that, by God!"

He was about to give reasons, but she would not let him speak.

"Don't repeat that, by God! or, woman as I am, I'll put my fist into
your face. Then we have been dying for two months, and I have sold
my household, and my little ones have fallen ill of it, and there is
to be nothing done, and the injustice is to begin again! Ah! do you
know! when I think of that my blood stands still. No, no, I would burn
everything, I would kill everything, rather than give up."

She pointed at Maheu in the darkness, with a vague, threatening gesture.

"Listen to this! If any man goes back to the pit, he'll find me waiting
for him on the road to spit in his face and cry coward!

Étienne could not see her, but he felt a heat like the breath of a
barking animal. He had drawn back, astonished at this fury which was
his work. She was so changed that he could no longer recognize the
woman who was once so sensible, reproving his violent schemes, saying
that we ought not to wish any one dead, and who was now refusing to
listen to reason and talking of killing people. It was not he now,
it was she, who talked politics, who dreamed of sweeping away the
bourgeois at a stroke, who demanded the republic and the guillotine
to free the earth of these rich robbers who fattened on the labour of
starvelings.

"Yes, I could flay them with my fingers. We've had enough of them! Our
turn is come now; you used to say so yourself. When I think of the
father, the grandfather, the grandfather's father, what all of them who
went before have suffered, what we are suffering, and that our sons and
our sons' sons will suffer it over again, it makes me mad--I could take
a knife. The other day we didn't do enough at Montsou; we ought to have
pulled the bloody place to the ground, down to the last brick. And do
you know I've only one regret, that we didn't let the old man strangle
the Piolaine girl. Hunger may strangle my little ones for all they
care!"

Her words fell like the blows of an axe in the night. The closed
horizon would not open, and the impossible ideal was turning to poison
in the depths of this skull which had been crushed by grief.

"You have misunderstood," Étienne was able to say at last, beating a
retreat. "We ought to come to an understanding with the Company. I know
that the pits are suffering much, so that it would probably consent to
an arrangement."

"No, never!" she shouted.

Just then Lénore and Henri came back with their hands empty. A
gentleman had certainly given them two sous, but the girl kept kicking
her little brother, and the two sous fell into the snow, and as Jeanlin
had joined in the search they had not been able to find them.

"Where is Jeanlin?"

"He's gone away, mother; he said he had business."

Étienne was listening with an aching heart. Once she had threatened
to kill them if they ever held out their hands to beg. Now she sent
them herself on to the roads, and proposed that all of them--the ten
thousand colliers of Montsou--should take stick and wallet, like
beggars of old, and scour the terrified country.

The anguish continued to increase in the black room. The little urchins
came back hungry, they wanted to eat; why could they not have something
to eat? And they grumbled, flung themselves about, and at last trod on
the feet of their dying sister, who groaned. The mother furiously boxed
their ears in the darkness at random. Then, as they cried still louder,
asking for bread, she burst into tears, and dropped on to the floor,
seizing them in one embrace with the little invalid; then, for a long
time, her tears fell in a nervous outbreak which left her limp and worn
out, stammering over and over again the same phrase, calling for death:

"O God! why do you not take us? O God! in pity take us, to have done
with it!"

The grandfather preserved his immobility, like an old tree twisted
by the rain and wind; while the father continued walking between the
fireplace and the cupboard, without turning his head.

But the door opened, and this time it was Doctor Vanderhaghen.

"The devil!" he said. "This light won't spoil your eyes. Look sharp!
I'm in a hurry."

As usual, he scolded, knocked up by work. Fortunately, he had matches
with him, and the father had to strike six, one by one, and to hold
them while he examined the invalid. Unwound from her coverlet, she
shivered beneath this flickering light, as lean as a bird dying in the
snow, so small that one only saw her hump. But she smiled with the
wandering smile of the dying, and her eyes were very large; while her
poor hands contracted over her hollow breast. And as the half-choked
mother asked if it was right to take away from her the only child who
helped in the household, so intelligent and gentle, the doctor grew
vexed.

"Ah! she is going. Dead of hunger, your blessed child. And not the only
one, either; I've just seen another one over there. You all send for
me, but I can't do anything; it's meat that you want to cure you."

Maheu, with burnt fingers, had dropped the match, and the darkness
closed over the little corpse, which was still warm. The doctor had
gone away in a hurry. Étienne heard nothing more in the black room
but Maheude's sobs, repeating her cry for death, that melancholy and
endless lamentation:

"O God! it is my turn, take me! O God! take my man, take the others,
out of pity, to have done with it!"



CHAPTER III


On that Sunday, ever since eight o'clock, Souvarine had been sitting
alone in the parlour of the Avantage, at his accustomed place, with
his head against the wall. Not a single collier knew where to get two
sous for a drink, and never had the bars had fewer customers. So Madame
Rasseneur, motionless at the counter, preserved an irritated silence;
while Rasseneur, standing before the iron fireplace, seemed to be
gazing with a reflective air at the brown smoke from the coal.

Suddenly, in this heavy silence of an over-heated room, three light
quick blows struck against one of the window-panes made Souvarine turn
his head. He rose, for he recognized the signal which Étienne had
already used several times before, in order to call him, when he saw
him from without, smoking his cigarette at an empty table. But before
the engine-man could reach the door, Rasseneur had opened it, and,
recognizing the man who stood there in the light from the window, he
said to him:

"Are you afraid that I shall sell you? You can talk better here than on
the road."

Étienne entered. Madame Rasseneur politely offered him a glass, which
he refused, with a gesture. The innkeeper added:

"I guessed long ago where you hide yourself. If I was a spy, as your
friends say, I should have sent the police after you a week ago."

"There is no need for you to defend yourself," replied the young man.
"I know that you have never eaten that sort of bread. People may have
different ideas and esteem each other all the same."

And there was silence once more. Souvarine had gone back to his chair,
with his back to the wall and his eyes fixed on the smoke from his
cigarette, but his feverish fingers were moving restlessly, and he ran
them over his knees, seeking the warm fur of Poland, who was absent
this evening; it was an unconscious discomfort, something that was
lacking, he could not exactly say what.

Seated on the other side of the table, Étienne at last said:

"To-morrow work begins again at the Voreux. The Belgians have come with
little Négrel."

"Yes, they landed them at nightfall," muttered Rasseneur, who remained
standing. "As long as they don't kill each other after all!"

Then raising his voice:

"No, you know, I don't want to begin our disputes over again, but this
will end badly if you hold out any longer. Why, your story is just like
that of your International. I met Pluchart the day before yesterday, at
Lille, where I went on business. It's going wrong, that machine of his."

He gave details. The association, after having conquered the workers
of the whole world, in an outburst of propaganda which had left the
middle class still shuddering, was now being devoured and slowly
destroyed by an internal struggle between vanities and ambitions.
Since the anarchists had triumphed in it, chasing out the earlier
evolutionists, everything was breaking up; the original aim, the reform
of the wage-system, was lost in the midst of the squabbling of sects;
the scientific framework was disorganized by the hatred of discipline.
And already it was possible to foresee the final miscarriage of this
general revolt which for a moment had threatened to carry away in a
breath the old rotten society.

"Pluchart is ill over it," Rasseneur went on. "And he has no voice at
all now. All the same, he talks on in spite of everything and wants to
go to Paris. And he told me three times over that our strike was done
for."

Étienne with his eyes on the ground let him talk on without
interruption. The evening before he had chatted with some mates, and he
felt that breaths of spite and suspicion were passing over him, those
first breaths of unpopularity which forerun defeat. And he remained
gloomy, he would not confess dejection in the presence of a man who had
foretold to him that the crowd would hoot him in his turn on the day
when they had to avenge themselves for a miscalculation.

"No doubt the strike is done for, I know that as well as Pluchart," he
said. "But we foresaw that. We accepted this strike against our wishes,
we didn't count on finishing up with the Company. Only one gets carried
away, one begins to expect things, and when it turns out badly one
forgets that one ought to have expected that, instead of lamenting and
quarrelling as if it were a catastrophe tumbled down from heaven."

"Then if you think the game's lost," asked Rasseneur, "why don't you
make the mates listen to reason?"

The young man looked at him fixedly.

"Listen! enough of this. You have your ideas, I have mine. I came in
here to show you that I feel esteem for you in spite of everything.
But I still think that if we come to grief over this trouble, our
starved carcasses will do more for the people's cause than all your
common-sense politics. Ah! if one of those bloody soldiers would just
put a bullet in my heart, that would be a fine way of ending!"

His eyes were moist, as in this cry there broke out the secret desire
of the vanquished, the refuge in which he desired to lose his torment
for ever.

"Well said!" declared Madame Rasseneur, casting on her husband a look
which was full of all the contempt of her radical opinions.

Souvarine, with a vague gaze, feeling about with his nervous hands, did
not appear to hear. His fair girlish face, with the thin nose and small
pointed teeth, seemed to be growing savage in some mystic dream full
of bloody visions. And he began to dream aloud, replying to a remark
of Rasseneur's about the International which had been let fall in the
course of the conversation.

"They are all cowards; there is only one man who can make their machine
into a terrible instrument of destruction. It requires will, and none
of them have will; and that's why the revolution will miscarry once
more."

He went on in a voice of disgust, lamenting the imbecility of men,
while the other two were disturbed by these somnambulistic confidences
made in the darkness. In Russia there was nothing going on well, and
he was in despair over the news he had received. His old companions
were all turning to the politicians; the famous Nihilists who made
Europe tremble--sons of village priests, of the lower middle class,
of tradesmen--could not rise above the idea of national liberation,
and seemed to believe that the world would be delivered--when they had
killed their despot. As soon as he spoke to them of razing society
to the ground like a ripe harvest--as soon as he even pronounced the
infantile word "republic"--he felt that he was misunderstood and a
disturber, henceforth unclassed, enrolled among the lost leaders of
cosmopolitan revolution. His patriotic heart struggled, however, and it
was with painful bitterness that he repeated his favourite expression:

"Foolery! They'll never get out of it with their foolery."

Then, lowering his voice still more, in a few bitter words he described
his old dream of fraternity. He had renounced his rank and his fortune;
he had gone among workmen, only in the hope of seeing at last the
foundation of a new society of labour in common. All the sous in his
pockets had long gone to the urchins of the settlement; he had been
as tender as a brother with the colliers, smiling at their suspicion,
winning them over by his quiet workmanlike ways and his dislike of
chattering. But decidedly the fusion had not taken place; he remained
a stranger, with his contempt of all bonds, his desire to keep himself
free of all petty vanities and enjoyments. And since this morning
he had been especially exasperated by reading an incident in the
newspapers.

His voice changed, his eyes grew bright, he fixed them on Étienne,
directly addressing him:

"Now, do you understand that? These hatworkers at Marseilles who have
won the great lottery prize of a hundred thousand francs have gone off
at once and invested it, declaring that they are going to live without
doing anything! Yes, that is your idea, all of you French workmen; you
want to unearth a treasure in order to devour it alone afterwards in
some lazy, selfish corner. You may cry out as much as you like against
the rich, you haven't got courage enough to give back to the poor the
money that luck brings you. You will never be worthy of happiness as
long as you own anything, and your hatred of the bourgeois proceeds
solely from an angry desire to be bourgeois yourselves in their place."

Rasseneur burst out laughing. The idea that the two Marseilles workmen
ought to renounce the big prize seemed to him absurd. But Souvarine
grew pale; his face changed and became terrible in one of those
religious rages which exterminate nations. He cried:

"You will all be mown down, overthrown, cast on the dung-heap.
Someone will be born who will annihilate your race of cowards and
pleasure-seekers. And look here! you see my hands; if my hands were
able they would take up the earth, like that, and shake it until it was
smashed to fragments, and you were all buried beneath the rubbish."

"Well said," declared Madame Rasseneur, with her polite and convinced
air.

There was silence again. Then Étienne spoke once more of the Borinage
men. He questioned Souvarine concerning the steps that had been taken
at the Voreux. But the engine-man was still preoccupied, and scarcely
replied. He only knew that cartridges would be distributed to the
soldiers who were guarding the pit; and the nervous restlessness of his
fingers over his knees increased to such an extent that, at last, he
became conscious of what was lacking--the soft and soothing fur of the
tame rabbit.

"Where is Poland, then?" he asked.

The innkeeper laughed again as he looked at his wife. After an awkward
silence he made up his mind:

"Poland? She is in the pot."

Since her adventure with Jeanlin, the pregnant rabbit, no doubt
wounded, had only brought forth dead young ones; and to avoid feeding a
useless mouth they had resigned themselves that very day to serve her
up with potatoes.

"Yes, you ate one of her legs this evening. Eh! You licked your fingers
after it!"

Souvarine had not understood at first. Then he became very pale, and
his face contracted with nausea; while, in spite of his stoicism, two
large tears were swelling beneath his eyelids.

But no one had time to notice this emotion, for the door had opened
roughly and Chaval had appeared, pushing Catherine before him.
After having made himself drunk with beer and bluster in all the
public-houses of Montsou, the idea had occurred to him to go to the
Avantage to show his old friends that he was not afraid. As he came in,
he said to his mistress:

"By God! I tell you you shall drink a glass in here; I'll break the
jaws of the first man who looks askance at me!"

Catherine, moved at the sight of Étienne, had become very pale. When
Chaval in his turn perceived him, he grinned in his evil fashion.

"Two glasses, Madame Rasseneur! We're wetting the new start of work."

Without a word she poured out, as a woman who never refused her beer to
any one. There was silence, and neither the landlord nor the two others
stirred from their places.

"I know people who've said that I was a spy," Chaval went on
swaggeringly, "and I'm waiting for them just to say it again to my
face, so that we can have a bit of explanation."

No one replied, and the men turned their heads and gazed vaguely at the
walls.

"There are some who sham, and there are some who don't sham," he went
on louder. "I've nothing to hide. I've left Deneulin's dirty shop,
and to-morrow I'm going down to the Voreux with a dozen Belgians, who
have been given me to lead because I'm held in esteem; and if any one
doesn't like that, he can just say so, and we'll talk it over."

Then, as the same contemptuous silence greeted his provocations, he
turned furiously on Catherine.

"Will you drink, by God? Drink with me to the confusion of all the
dirty beasts who refuse to work."

She drank, but with so trembling a hand that the two glasses struck
together with a tinkling sound. He had now pulled out of his pocket a
handful of silver, which he exhibited with drunken ostentation, saying
that he had earned that with his sweat, and that he defied the shammers
to show ten sous. The attitude of his mates exasperated him, and he
began to come to direct insults.

"Then it is at night that the moles come out? The police have to go to
sleep before we meet the brigands."

Étienne had risen, very calm and resolute.

"Listen! You annoy me. Yes, you are a spy; your money still stinks of
some treachery. You've sold yourself, and it disgusts me to touch your
skin. No matter; I'm your man. It is quite time that one of us did for
the other."

Chaval clenched his fists.

"Come along, then, cowardly dog! I must call you so to warm you up.
You all alone--I'm quite willing; and you shall pay for all the bloody
tricks that have been played on me."

With suppliant arms Catherine advanced between them. But they had no
need to repel her; she felt the necessity of the battle, and slowly
drew back of her own accord. Standing against the wall, she remained
silent, so paralysed with anguish that she no longer shivered, her
large eyes gazing at these two men who were going to kill each other
over her.

Madame Rasseneur simply removed the glasses from the counter for fear
that they might be broken. Then she sat down again on the bench,
without showing any improper curiosity. But two old mates could
not be left to murder each other like this. Rasseneur persisted in
interfering, and Souvarine had to take him by the shoulder and lead him
back to the table, saying:

"It doesn't concern you. There is one of them too many, and the
strongest must live."

Without waiting for the attack, Chaval's fists were already dealing
blows at space. He was the taller of the two, and his blows swung about
aiming at the face, with furious cutting movements of both arms one
after the other, as though he were handling a couple of sabres. And he
went on talking, playing to the gallery with volleys of abuse, which
served to excite him.

"Ah! you damned devil, I'll have your nose! I'll do for your bloody
nose! Just let me get at your chops, you whore's looking-glass;
I'll make a hash for the bloody swine, and then we shall see if the
strumpets will run after you!"

In silence, and with clenched teeth, Étienne gathered up his small
figure, according to the rules of the game, protecting his chest and
face by both fists; and he watched and let them fly like springs
released, with terrible straight blows.

At first they did each other little damage. The whirling and blustering
blows of the one, the cool watchfulness of the other, prolonged the
struggle. A chair was overthrown; their heavy boots crushed the white
sand scattered on the floor. But at last they were out of breath, their
panting respiration was heard, while their faces became red and swollen
as from an interior fire which flamed out from the clear holes of their
eyes.

"Played!" yelled Chaval; "trumps on your carcass!"

In fact his fist, working like a flail, had struck his adversary's
shoulder. Étienne restrained a groan of pain and the only sound that
was heard was the dull bruising of the muscles. Étienne replied with
a straight blow to Chaval's chest, which would have knocked him out,
had he had not saved himself by one of his constant goat-like leaps.
The blow, however, caught him on the left flank with such effect that
he tottered, momentarily winded. He became furious on feeling his arm
grow limp with pain, and kicked out like a wild beast, aiming at his
adversary's belly with his heel.

"Have at your guts!" he stammered in a choked voice. "I'll pull them
out and unwind them for you!"

Étienne avoided the blow, so indignant at this infraction of the laws
of fair fighting that he broke silence.

"Hold your tongue, brute! And no feet, by God! or I take a chair and
bash you with it!"

Then the struggle became serious. Rasseneur was disgusted, and would
again have interfered, but a severe look from his wife held him back:
had not two customers a right to settle an affair in the house?
He simply placed himself before the fireplace, for fear lest they
should tumble over into it. Souvarine, in his quiet way, had rolled a
cigarette, but he forgot to light it. Catherine was motionless against
the wall; only her hands had unconsciously risen to her waist, and with
constant fidgeting movements were twisting and tearing at the stuff of
her dress. She was striving as hard as possible not to cry out, and so,
perhaps, kill one of them by declaring her preference; but she was,
too, so distracted that she did not even know which she preferred.

Chaval, who was bathed in sweat and striking at random, soon became
exhausted. In spite of his anger, Étienne continued to cover himself,
parrying nearly all the blows, a few of which grazed him. His ear was
split, a finger nail had torn away a piece of his neck, and this so
smarted that he swore in his turn as he drove out one of his terrible
straight blows. Once more Chaval saved his chest by a leap, but he had
lowered himself, and the fist reached his face, smashing his nose and
crushing one eye. Immediately a jet of blood came from his nostrils,
and his eye became swollen and bluish. Blinded by this red flood, and
dazed by the shock to his skull, the wretch was beating the air with
his arms at random, when another blow, striking him at last full in the
chest, finished him. There was a crunching sound; he fell on his back
with a heavy thud, as when a sack of plaster is emptied.

Étienne waited.

"Get up! if you want some more, we'll begin again."

Without replying, Chaval, after a few minutes' stupefaction, moved
on the ground and stretched his limbs. He picked himself up with
difficulty, resting for a moment curled up on his knees, doing
something with his hand in the bottom of his pocket which could not be
observed. Then, when he was up, he rushed forward again, his throat
swelling with a savage yell.

But Catherine had seen; and in spite of herself a loud cry came from
her heart, astonishing her like the avowal of a preference she had
herself been ignorant of:

"Take care! he's got his knife!"

Étienne had only time to parry the first blow with his arm. His woollen
jacket was cut by the thick blade, one of those blades fastened by a
copper ferrule into a boxwood handle. He had already seized Chaval's
wrist, and a terrible struggle began; for he felt that he would be lost
if he let go, while the other shook his arm in the effort to free it
and strike. The weapon was gradually lowered as their stiffened limbs
grew fatigued. Étienne twice felt the cold sensation of the steel
against his skin; and he had to make a supreme effort, so crushing the
other's wrist that the knife slipped from his hand. Both of them had
fallen to the earth, and it was Étienne who snatched it up, brandishing
it in his turn. He held Chaval down beneath his knee and threatened to
slit his throat open.

"Ah, traitor! by God! you've got it coming to you now!"

He felt an awful voice within, deafening him. It arose from his bowels
and was beating in his head like a hammer, a sudden mania of murder, a
need to taste blood. Never before had the crisis so shaken him. He was
not drunk, however, and he struggled against the hereditary disease
with the despairing shudder of a man who is mad with lust and struggles
on the verge of rape. At last he conquered himself; he threw the knife
behind him, stammering in a hoarse voice:

"Get up--off you go!"

This time Rasseneur had rushed forward, but without quite daring to
venture between them, for fear of catching a nasty blow. He did not
want any one to be murdered in his house, and was so angry that his
wife, sitting erect at the counter, remarked to him that he always
cried out too soon. Souvarine, who had nearly caught the knife in his
legs, decided to light his cigarette. Was it, then, all over? Catherine
was looking on stupidly at the two men, who were unexpectedly both
living.

"Off you go!" repeated Étienne. "Off you go, or I'll do for you!"

Chaval arose, and with the back of his hand wiped away the blood which
continued to flow from his nose; with jaw smeared red and bruised
eye, he went away trailing his feet, furious at his defeat. Catherine
mechanically followed him. Then he turned round, and his hatred broke
out in a flood of filth.

"No, no! since you want him, sleep with him, dirty jade! and don't put
your bloody feet in my place again if you value your skin!"

He violently banged the door. There was deep silence in the warm room,
the low crackling of the coal was alone heard. On the ground there only
remained the overturned chair and a rain of blood which the sand on the
floor was drinking up.



CHAPTER IV


When they came out of Rasseneur's, Étienne and Catherine walked on in
silence. The thaw was beginning, a slow cold thaw which stained the
snow without melting it. In the livid sky a full moon could be faintly
seen behind great clouds, black rags driven furiously by a tempestuous
wind far above; and on the earth no breath was stirring, nothing could
be heard but drippings from the roofs, the falling of white lumps with
a soft thud.

Étienne was embarrassed by this woman who had been given to him, and
in his disquiet he could find nothing to say. The idea of taking her
with him to hide at Réquillart seemed absurd. He had proposed to lead
her back to the settlement, to her parents' house, but she had refused
in terror. No, no! anything rather than be a burden on them once more
after having behaved so badly to them! And neither of them spoke any
more; they tramped on at random through the roads which were becoming
rivers of mud. At first they went down towards the Voreux; then they
turned to the right and passed between the pit-bank and the canal.

"But you'll have to sleep somewhere," he said at last. "Now, if I only
had a room, I could easily take you----"

But a curious spasm of timidity interrupted him. The past came back
to him, their old longings for each other, and the delicacies and the
shames which had prevented them from coming together. Did he still
desire her, that he felt so troubled, gradually warmed at the heart by
a fresh longing? The recollection of the blows she had dealt him at
Gaston-Marie now attracted him instead of filling him with spite. And
he was surprised; the idea of taking her to Réquillart was becoming
quite natural and easy to execute.

"Now, come, decide; where would you like me to take you? You must hate
me very much to refuse to come with me!"

She was following him slowly, delayed by the painful slipping of her
sabots into the ruts; and without raising her head she murmured:

"I have enough trouble, good God! don't give me any more. What good
would it do us, what you ask, now that I have a lover and you have a
woman yourself?"

She meant Mouquette. She believed that he still went with this girl, as
the rumour ran for the last fortnight; and when he swore to her that it
was not so she shook her head, for she remembered the evening when she
had seen them eagerly kissing each other.

"Isn't it a pity, all this nonsense?" he whispered, stopping. "We might
understand each other so well."

She shuddered slightly and replied:

"Never mind, you've nothing to be sorry for; you don't lose much. If
you knew what a trumpery thing I am--no bigger than two ha'porth of
butter, so ill made that I shall never become a woman, sure enough!"

And she went on freely accusing herself, as though the long delay of
her puberty had been her own fault. In spite of the man whom she had
had, this lessened her, placed her among the urchins. One has some
excuse, at any rate, when one can produce a child.

"My poor little one!" said Étienne, with deep pity, in a very low voice.

They were at the foot of the pit-bank, hidden in the shadow of the
enormous pile. An inky cloud was just then passing over the moon;
they could no longer even distinguish their faces, their breaths
were mingled, their lips were seeking each other for that kiss which
had tormented them with desire for months. But suddenly the moon
reappeared, and they saw the sentinel above them, at the top of the
rocks white with light, standing out erect on the Voreux. And before
they had kissed an emotion of modesty separated them, that old modesty
in which there was something of anger, a vague repugnance, and much
friendship. They set out again heavily, up to their ankles in mud.

"Then it's settled. You don't want to have anything to do with me?"
asked Étienne.

"No," she said. "You after Chaval; and after you another, eh? No, that
disgusts me; it doesn't give me any pleasure. What's the use of doing
it?"

They were silent, and walked some hundred paces without exchanging a
word.

"But, anyhow, do you know where to go to?" he said again. "I can't
leave you out in a night like this."

She replied, simply:

"I'm going back. Chaval is my man. I have nowhere else to sleep but
with him."

"But he will beat you to death."

There was silence again. She had shrugged her shoulders in resignation.
He would beat her, and when he was tired of beating her he would stop.
Was not that better than to roam the streets like a vagabond? Then she
was used to blows; she said, to console herself, that eight out of ten
girls were no better off than she was. If her lover married her some
day it would, all the same, be very nice of him.

Étienne and Catherine were moving mechanically towards Montsou, and
as they came nearer their silences grew longer. It was as though they
had never before been together. He could find no argument to convince
her, in spite of the deep vexation which he felt at seeing her go back
to Chaval. His heart was breaking, he had nothing better to offer than
an existence of wretchedness and flight, a night with no to-morrow
should a soldier's bullet go through his head. Perhaps, after all, it
was wiser to suffer what he was suffering rather than risk a fresh
suffering. So he led her back to her lover's, with sunken head, and
made no protest when she stopped him on the main road, at the corner of
the Yards, twenty metres from the Estaminet Piquette, saying:

"Don't come any farther. If he sees you it will only make things worse."

Eleven o'clock struck at the church. The estaminet was closed, but
gleams came through the cracks.

"Good-bye," she murmured.

She had given him her hand; he kept it, and she had to draw it away
painfully, with a slow effort, to leave him. Without turning her head,
she went in through the little latched door. But he did not turn away,
standing at the same place with his eyes on the house, anxious as to
what was passing within. He listened, trembling lest he should hear the
cries of a beaten woman. The house remained black and silent; he only
saw a light appear at a first-floor window, and as this window opened,
and he recognized the thin shadow that was leaning over the road, he
came near.

Catherine then whispered very low:

"He's not come back. I'm going to bed. Please go away."

Étienne went off. The thaw was increasing; a regular shower was falling
from the roofs, a moist sweat flowed down the walls, the palings, the
whole confused mass of this industrial district lost in night. At
first he turned towards Réquillart, sick with fatigue and sadness,
having no other desire except to disappear under the earth and to be
annihilated there. Then the idea of the Voreux occurred to him again.
He thought of the Belgian workmen who were going down, of his mates at
the settlement, exasperated against the soldiers and resolved not to
tolerate strangers in their pit. And he passed again along the canal
through the puddles of melted snow.

As he stood once more near the pit-bank the moon was shining brightly.
He raised his eyes and gazed at the sky. The clouds were galloping by,
whipped on by the strong wind which was blowing up there; but they were
growing white, and ravelling out thinly with the misty transparency
of troubled water over the moon's face. They succeeded each other so
rapidly that the moon, veiled at moments, constantly reappeared in
limpid clearness.

With gaze full of this pure brightness, Étienne was lowering his head,
when a spectacle on the summit of the pit-bank attracted his attention.
The sentinel, stiffened by cold, was walking up and down, taking
twenty-five paces towards Marchiennes, and then returning towards
Montsou. The white glitter of his bayonet could be seen above his black
silhouette, which stood out clearly against the pale sky. But what
interested the young man, behind the cabin where Bonnemort used to take
shelter on tempestuous nights, was a moving shadow--a crouching beast
in ambush--which he immediately recognized as Jeanlin, with his long
flexible spine like a marten's. The sentinel could not see him. That
brigand of a child was certainly preparing some practical joke, for he
was still furious against the soldiers, and asking when they were going
to be freed from these murderers who had been sent here with guns to
kill people.

For a moment Étienne thought of calling him to prevent the execution of
some stupid trick. The moon was hidden. He had seen him draw himself
up ready to spring; but the moon reappeared, and the child remained
crouching. At every turn the sentinel came as far as the cabin, then
turned his back and walked in the opposite direction. And suddenly, as
a cloud threw its shadow, Jeanlin leapt on to the soldier's shoulders
with the great bound of a wild cat, and gripping him with his claws
buried his large open knife in his throat. The horse-hair collar
resisted; he had to apply both hands to the handle and hang on with
all the weight of his body. He had often bled fowls which he had found
behind farms. It was so rapid that there was only a stifled cry in the
night, while the musket fell with the sound of old iron. Already the
moon was shining again.

Motionless with stupor, Étienne was still gazing. A shout had been
choked in his chest. Above, the pit-bank was vacant; no shadow was
any longer visible against the wild flight of clouds. He ran up and
found Jeanlin on all fours before the corpse, which was lying back
with extended arms. Beneath the limpid light the red trousers and grey
overcoat contrasted harshly with the snow. Not a drop of blood had
flowed, the knife was still in the throat up to the handle. With a
furious, unreasoning blow of the fist he knocked the child down beside
the body.

"What have you done that for?" he stammered wildly.

Jeanlin picked himself up and rested on his hands, with a feline
movement of his thin spine; his large ears, his green eyes, his
prominent jaws were quivering and aflame with the shock of his deadly
blow.

"By God! why have you done this?"

"I don't know; I wanted to."

He persisted in this reply. For three days he had wanted to. It
tormented him, it made his head ache behind his ears, because he
thought about it so much. Need one be so particular with these damned
soldiers who were worrying the colliers in their own homes? Of the
violent speeches he had heard in the forest, the cries of destruction
and death shouted among the pits, five or six words had remained with
him, and these he repeated like a street urchin playing at revolution.
And he knew no more; no one had urged him on, it had come to him of
itself, just as the desire to steal onions from a field came to him.

Startled at this obscure growth of crime in the recesses of this
childish brain, Étienne again pushed him away with a kick, like an
unconscious animal. He trembled lest the guard at the Voreux had heard
the sentinel's stifled cry, and looked towards the pit every time the
moon was uncovered. But nothing stirred, and he bent down, felt the
hands that were gradually becoming icy, and listened to the heart,
which had stopped beneath the overcoat. Only the bone handle of the
knife could be seen with the motto on it, the simple word "Amour,"
engraved in black letters.

His eyes went from the throat to the face. Suddenly he recognized the
little soldier; it was Jules, the recruit with whom he had talked one
morning. And deep pity came over him in front of this fair gentle face,
marked with freckles. The blue eyes, wide open, were gazing at the sky
with that fixed gaze with which he had before seen him searching the
horizon for the country of his birth. Where was it, that Plogof which
had appeared to him beneath the dazzling sun? Over there, over there!
The sea was moaning afar on this tempestuous night. That wind passing
above had perhaps swept over the moors. Two women perhaps were standing
there, the mother and the sister, clutching their wind-blown coifs,
gazing as if they could see what was now happening to the little fellow
through the leagues which separated them. They would always wait for
him now. What an abominable thing it is for poor devils to kill each
other for the sake of the rich!

But this corpse had to be disposed of. Étienne at first thought of
throwing it into the canal, but was deterred from this by the certainty
that it would be found there. His anxiety became extreme, every minute
was of importance; what decision should he take? He had a sudden
inspiration: if he could carry the body as far as Réquillart, he would
be able to bury it there for ever.

"Come here," he said to Jeanlin.

The child was suspicious.

"No, you want to beat me. And then I have business. Good night."

In fact, he had given a rendezvous to Bébert and Lydie in a
hiding-place, a hole arranged under the wood supply at the Voreux. It
had been arranged to sleep out, so as to be there if the Belgians'
bones were to be broken by stoning when they went down the pit.

"Listen!" repeated Étienne. "Come here, or I shall call the soldiers,
who will cut your head off."

And as Jeanlin was making up his mind, he rolled his handkerchief, and
bound the soldier's neck tightly, without drawing out the knife, so as
to prevent the blood from flowing. The snow was melting; on the soil
there was neither a red patch nor the footmarks of a struggle.

"Take the legs!"

Jeanlin took the legs, while Étienne seized the shoulders, after having
fastened the gun behind his back, and then they both slowly descended
the pit-bank, trying to avoid rolling any rocks down. Fortunately the
moon was hidden. But as they passed along the canal it reappeared
brightly, and it was a miracle that the guard did not see them.
Silently they hastened on, hindered by the swinging of the corpse, and
obliged to place it on the ground every hundred metres. At the corner
of the Réquillart lane they heard a sound which froze them with terror,
and they only had time to hide behind a wall to avoid a patrol. Farther
on, a man came across them, but he was drunk, and moved away abusing
them. At last they reached the old pit, bathed in perspiration, and so
exhausted that their teeth were chattering.

Étienne had guessed that it would not be easy to get the soldier down
the ladder shaft. It was an awful task. First of all Jeanlin, standing
above, had to let the body slide down, while Étienne, hanging on to
the bushes, had to accompany it to enable it to pass the first two
ladders where the rungs were broken. Afterwards, at every ladder, he
had to perform the same manoeuvre over again, going down first, then
receiving the body in his arms; and he had thus, down thirty ladders,
two hundred and ten metres, to feel it constantly falling over him.
The gun scraped his spine; he had not allowed the child to go for the
candle-end, which he preserved avariciously. What was the use? The
light would only embarrass them in this narrow tube. When they arrived
at the pit-eye, however, out of breath, he sent the youngster for the
candle. He then sat down and waited for him in the darkness, near the
body, with heart beating violently. As soon as Jeanlin reappeared with
the light, Étienne consulted with him, for the child had explored these
old workings, even to the cracks through which men could not pass.
They set out again, dragging the dead body for nearly a kilometre,
through a maze of ruinous galleries. At last the roof became low,
and they found themselves kneeling beneath a sandy rock supported by
half-broken planks. It was a sort of long chest in which they laid the
little soldier as in a coffin; they placed his gun by his side; then
with vigorous blows of their heels they broke the timber at the risk
of being buried themselves. Immediately the rock gave way, and they
scarcely had time to crawl back on their elbows and knees. When Étienne
returned, seized by the desire to look once more, the roof was still
falling in, slowly crushing the body beneath its enormous weight. And
then there was nothing more left, nothing but the vast mass of the
earth.

Jeanlin, having returned to his own corner, his little cavern of
villainy, was stretching himself out on the hay, overcome by weariness,
and murmuring:

"Heigho! the brats must wait for me; I'm going to have an hour's sleep."

Étienne had blown out the candle, of which there was only a small end
left. He also was worn out, but he was not sleepy; painful nightmare
thoughts were beating like hammers in his skull. Only one at last
remained, torturing him and fatiguing him with a question to which he
could not reply: Why had he not struck Chaval when he held him beneath
the knife? and why had this child just killed a soldier whose very
name he did not know? It shook his revolutionary beliefs, the courage
to kill, the right to kill. Was he, then, a coward? In the hay the
child had begun snoring, the snoring of a drunken man, as if he were
sleeping off the intoxication of his murder. Étienne was disgusted and
irritated; it hurt him to know that the boy was there and to hear him.
Suddenly he started, a breath of fear passed over his face. A light
rustling, a sob, seemed to him to have come out of the depths of the
earth. The image of the little soldier, lying over there with his gun
beneath the rocks, froze his back and made his hair stand up. It was
idiotic, the whole mine seemed to be filled with voices; he had to
light the candle again, and only grew calm on seeing the emptiness of
the galleries by this pale light.

For another quarter of an hour he reflected, still absorbed in the
same struggle, his eyes fixed on the burning wick. But there was a
spluttering, the wick was going out, and everything fell back into
darkness. He shuddered again; he could have boxed Jeanlin's ears, to
keep him from snoring so loudly. The neighbourhood of the child became
so unbearable that he escaped, tormented by the need for fresh air,
hastening through the galleries and up the passage, as though he could
hear a shadow, panting, at his heels.

Up above, in the midst of the ruins of Réquillart, Étienne was at last
able to breathe freely. Since he dared not kill, it was for him to die;
and this idea of death, which had already touched him, came again and
fixed itself in his head, as a last hope. To die bravely, to die for
the revolution, that would end everything, would settle his account,
good or bad, and prevent him from thinking more. If the men attacked
the Borains, he would be in the first rank, and would have a good
chance of getting a bad blow. It was with firmer step that he returned
to prowl around the Voreux. Two o'clock struck, and the loud noise
of voices was coming from the captains' room, where the guards who
watched over the pit were posted. The disappearance of the sentinel had
overcome the guards with surprise; they had gone to arouse the captain,
and after a careful examination of the place, they concluded that it
must be a case of desertion. Hiding in the shade, Étienne recollected
this republican captain of whom the little soldier had spoken. Who
knows if he might not be persuaded to pass over to the people's side!
The troop would raise their rifles, and that would be the signal for
a massacre of the bourgeois. A new dream took possession of him; he
thought no more of dying, but remained for hours with his feet in the
mud, and a drizzle from the thaw falling on his shoulders, filled by
the feverish hope that victory was still possible.

Up to five o'clock he watched for the Borains. Then he perceived
that the Company had cunningly arranged that they should sleep at
the Voreux. The descent had begun, and the few strikers from the
Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement who had been posted as scouts had not yet
warned their mates. It was he who told them of the trick, and they set
out running, while he waited behind the pit-bank, on the towing-path.
Six o'clock struck, and the earthy sky was growing pale and lighting up
with a reddish dawn, when the Abbé Ranvier came along a path, holding
up his cassock above his thin legs. Every Monday he went to say an
early mass at a convent chapel on the other side of the pit.

"Good morning, my friend," he shouted in a loud voice, after staring at
the young man with his flaming eyes.

But Étienne did not reply. Far away between the Voreux platforms he had
just seen a woman pass, and he rushed forward anxiously, for he thought
he recognized Catherine. Since midnight, Catherine had been walking
about the thawing roads. Chaval, on coming back and finding her in bed,
had knocked her out with a blow. He shouted to her to go at once by the
door if she did not wish to go by the window; and scarcely dressed,
in tears, and bruised by kicks in her legs, she had been obliged to
go down, pushed outside by a final thrust. This sudden separation
dazed her, and she sat down on a stone, looking up at the house, still
expecting that he would call her back. It was not possible; he would
surely look for her and tell her to come back when he saw her thus
shivering and abandoned, with no one to take her in.

At the end of two hours she made up her mind, dying of cold and as
motionless as a dog thrown into the street. She left Montsou, then
retraced her steps, but dared neither to call from the pathway nor to
knock at the door. At last she went off by the main road to the right
with the idea of going to the settlement, to her parents' house. But
when she reached it she was seized by such shame that she rushed away
along the gardens for fear of being recognized by someone, in spite of
the heavy sleep which weighed on all eyes behind the closed shutters.
And after that she wandered about, frightened at the slightest noise,
trembling lest she should be seized and led away as a strumpet to
that house at Marchiennes, the threat of which had haunted her like
nightmare for months. Twice she stumbled against the Voreux, but
terrified at the loud voices of the guard, she ran away out of breath,
looking behind her to see if she was being pursued. The Réquillart lane
was always full of drunken men; she went back to it, however, with the
vague hope of meeting there him she had repelled a few hours earlier.

Chaval had to go down that morning, and this thought brought Catherine
again towards the pit, though she felt that it would be useless to
speak to him: all was over between them. There was no work going on
at Jean-Bart, and he had sworn to kill her if she worked again at the
Voreux, where he feared that she would compromise him. So what was to
be done?--to go elsewhere, to die of hunger, to yield beneath the blows
of every man who might pass? She dragged herself along, tottering amid
the ruts, with aching legs and mud up to her spine. The thaw had now
filled the streets with a flood of mire. She waded through it, still
walking, not daring to look for a stone to sit on.

Day appeared. Catherine had just recognized the back of Chaval, who was
cautiously going round the pit-bank, when she noticed Lydie and Bébert
putting their noses out of their hiding-place beneath the wood supply.
They had passed the night there in ambush, without going home, since
Jeanlin's order was to await him; and while this latter was sleeping
off the drunkenness of his murder at Réquillart, the two children were
lying in each other's arms to keep warm. The wind blew between the
planks of chestnut and oak, and they rolled themselves up as in some
wood-cutter's abandoned hut. Lydie did not dare to speak aloud the
sufferings of a small beaten woman, any more than Bébert found courage
to complain of the captain's blows which made his cheeks swell; but
the captain was really abusing his power, risking their bones in mad
marauding expeditions while refusing to share the booty. Their hearts
rose in revolt, and they had at last embraced each other in spite of
his orders, careless of that box of the ears from the invisible with
which he had threatened them. It never came, so they went on kissing
each other softly, with no idea of anything else, putting into that
caress the passion they had long struggled against--the whole of their
martyred and tender natures. All night through they had thus kept each
other warm, so happy, at the bottom of this secret hole, that they
could not remember that they had ever been so happy before--not even on
St. Barbara's day, when they had eaten fritters and drunk wine.

The sudden sound of a bugle made Catherine start. She raised herself,
and saw the Voreux guards taking up their arms. Étienne arrived
running; Bébert and Lydie jumped out of their hiding-place with a leap.
And over there, beneath the growing daylight, a band of men and women
were coming from the settlement, gesticulating wildly with anger.



CHAPTER V


All the entrances to the Voreux had been closed, and the sixty
soldiers, with grounded arms, were barring the only door left free,
that leading to the receiving-room by a narrow staircase into which
opened the captains' room and the shed. The men had been drawn up in
two lines against the brick wall, so that they could not be attacked
from behind.

At first the band of miners from the settlement kept at a distance.
They were some thirty at most, and talked together in a violent and
confused way.

Maheude, who had arrived first with dishevelled hair beneath a
handkerchief knotted on in haste, and having Estelle asleep in her
arms, repeated in feverish tones:

"Don't let any one in or any one out! Shut them all in there!"

Maheu approved, and just then Father Mouque arrived from Réquillart.
They wanted to prevent him from passing. But he protested; he said that
his horses ate their hay all the same, and cared precious little about
a revolution. Besides, there was a horse dead, and they were waiting
for him to draw it up. Étienne freed the old groom, and the soldiers
allowed him to go to the shaft. A quarter of an hour later, as the band
of strikers, which had gradually enlarged, was becoming threatening,
a large door opened on the ground floor and some men appeared drawing
out the dead beast, a miserable mass of flesh still fastened in the
rope net; they left it in the midst of the puddles of melting snow. The
surprise was so great that no one prevented the men from returning and
barricading the door afresh. They all recognized the horse, with his
head bent back and stiff against the plank. Whispers ran around:

"It's Trompette, isn't it? it's Trompette."

It was, in fact, Trompette. Since his descent he had never become
acclimatized. He remained melancholy, with no taste for his task, as
though tortured by regret for the light. In vain Bataille, the _doyen_
of the mine, would rub him with his ribs in his friendly way,
softly biting his neck to impart to him a little of the resignation
gained in his ten years beneath the earth. These caresses increased his
melancholy, his skin quivered beneath the confidences of the comrade
who had grown old in darkness; and both of them, whenever they met and
snorted together, seemed to be grieving, the old one that he could no
longer remember, the young one that he could not forget. At the stable
they were neighbours at the manger, and lived with lowered heads,
breathing in each other's nostrils, exchanging a constant dream of
daylight, visions of green grass, of white roads, of infinite yellow
light. Then, when Trompette, bathed in sweat, lay in agony in his
litter, Bataille had smelled at him despairingly with short sniffs like
sobs. He felt that he was growing cold, the mine was taking from him
his last joy, that friend fallen from above, fresh with good odours,
who recalled to him his youth in the open air. And he had broken his
tether, neighing with fear, when he perceived that the other no longer
stirred.

Mouque had indeed warned the head captain a week ago. But much they
troubled about a sick horse at such time as this! These gentlemen did
not at all like moving the horses. Now, however, they had to make up
their minds to take him out. The evening before the groom had spent
an hour with two men tying up Trompette. They harnessed Bataille to
bring him to the shaft. The old horse slowly pulled, dragging his dead
comrade through so narrow a gallery that he could only shake himself at
the risk of taking the skin off. And he tossed his head, listening to
the grazing sound of the carcass as it went to the knacker's yard. At
the pit-eye, when he was unharnessed, he followed with his melancholy
eye the preparations for the ascent--the body pushed on to the
cross-bars over the sump, the net fastened beneath a cage. At last the
porters rang meat; he lifted his neck to see it go up, at first softly,
then at once lost in the darkness, flown up for ever to the top of that
black hole. And he remained with neck stretched out, his vague beast's
memory perhaps recalling the things of the earth. But it was all over;
he would never see his comrade again, and he himself would thus be
tied up in a pitiful bundle on the day when he would ascend up there.
His legs began to tremble, the fresh air which came from the distant
country choked him, and he seemed intoxicated when he went heavily back
to the stable.

At the surface the colliers stood gloomily before Trompette's carcass.
A woman said in a low voice:

"Another man; that may go down if it likes!"

But a new flood arrived from the settlement, and Levaque, who was at
the head followed by his wife and Bouteloup, shouted:

"Kill them, those Borains! No blacklegs here! Kill them! Kill them!"

All rushed forward, and Étienne had to stop them. He went up to the
captain, a tall thin young man of scarcely twenty-eight years, with
a despairing, resolute face. He explained things to him; he tried to
win him over, watching the effect of his words. What was the good of
risking a useless massacre? Was not justice on the side of the miners?
They were all brothers, and they ought to understand one another.
When he came to use the world "republic" the captain made a nervous
movement; but he preserved his military stiffness, and said suddenly:

"Keep off! Do not force me to do my duty."

Three times over Étienne tried again. Behind him his mates were
growling. The report ran that M. Hennebeau was at the pit, and they
talked of letting him down by the neck, to see if he would hew his
coal himself. But it was a false report; only Négrel and Dansaert were
there. They both showed themselves for a moment at a window of the
receiving-room; the head captain stood in the background, rather out
of countenance since his adventure with Pierronne, while the engineer
bravely looked round on the crowd with his bright little eyes, smiling
with that sneering contempt in which he enveloped men and things
generally. Hooting arose, and they disappeared. And in their place
only Souvarine's pale face was seen. He was just then on duty; he had
not left his engine for a single day since the strike began, no longer
talking, more and more absorbed by a fixed idea, which seemed to be
shining like steel in the depths of his pale eyes.

"Keep off!" repeated the captain loudly. "I wish to hear nothing. My
orders are to guard the pit, and I shall guard it. And do not press on
to my men, or I shall know how to drive you back."

In spite of his firm voice, he was growing pale with increasing
anxiety, as the flood of miners continued to swell. He would be
relieved at midday; but fearing that he would not be able to hold out
until then, he had sent a trammer from the pit to Montsou to ask for
reinforcements.

Shouts had replied to him:

"Kill the blacklegs! Kill the Borains! We mean to be masters in our own
place!"

Étienne drew back in despair. The end had come; there was nothing more
except to fight and to die. And he ceased to hold back his mates. The
mob moved up to the little troop. There were nearly four hundred of
them, and the people from the neighbouring settlements were all running
up. They all shouted the same cry. Maheu and Levaque said furiously to
the soldiers:

"Get off with you! We have nothing against you! Get off with you!"

"This doesn't concern you," said Maheude. "Let us attend to our own
affairs."

And from behind, the Levaque woman added, more violently:

"Must we eat you to get through? Just clear out of the bloody place!"

Even Lydie's shrill voice was heard. She had crammed herself in more
closely, with Bébert, and was saying, in a high voice:

"Oh, the pale-livered pigs!"

Catherine, a few paces off, was gazing and listening, stupefied by
new scenes of violence, into the midst of which ill luck seemed to be
always throwing her. Had she not suffered too much already? What fault
had she committed, then, that misfortune would never give her any rest?
The day before she had understood nothing of the fury of the strike;
she thought that when one has one's share of blows it is useless to
go and seek for more. And now her heart was swelling with hatred;
she remembered what Étienne had often told her when they used to sit
up; she tried to hear what he was now saying to the soldiers. He was
treating them as mates; he reminded them that they also belonged to the
people, and that they ought to be on the side of the people against
those who took advantage of their wretchedness.

But a tremor ran through the crowd, and an old woman rushed up. It was
Mother Brulé, terrible in her leanness, with her neck and arms in the
air, coming up at such a pace that the wisps of her grey hair blinded
her.

"Ah! by God! here I am," she stammered, out of breath; "that traitor
Pierron, who shut me up in the cellar!"

And without waiting she fell on the soldiers, her black mouth belching
abuse.

"Pack of scoundrels! dirty scum! ready to lick their masters' boots,
and only brave against poor people!"

Then the others joined her, and there were volleys of insults. A
few, indeed, cried: "Hurrah for the soldiers! to the shaft with the
officer!" but soon there was only one clamour: "Down with the red
breeches!" These men, who had listened quietly, with motionless mute
faces, to the fraternal appeals and the friendly attempts to win them
over, preserved the same stiff passivity beneath this hail of abuse.
Behind them the captain had drawn his sword, and as the crowd pressed
in on them more and more, threatening to crush them against the wall,
he ordered them to present bayonets. They obeyed, and a double row of
steel points was placed in front of the strikers' breasts.

"Ah! the bloody swine!" yelled Mother Brulé, drawing back.

But already they were coming on again, in excited contempt of death.
The women were throwing themselves forward, Maheude and the Levaque
shouting:

"Kill us! Kill us, then! We want our rights!"

Levaque, at the risk of getting cut, had seized three bayonets in his
hands, shaking and pulling them in the effort to snatch them away. He
twisted them in the strength of his fury; while Bouteloup, standing
aside, and annoyed at having followed his mate, quietly watched him.

"Just come and look here," said Maheu; "just look a bit if you are good
chaps!"

And he opened his jacket and drew aside his shirt, showing his
naked breast, with his hairy skin tattooed by coal. He pressed on
the bayonets, compelling the soldiers to draw back, terrible in his
insolence and bravado. One of them had pricked him in the chest, and he
became like a madman, trying to make it enter deeper and to hear his
ribs crack.

"Cowards, you don't dare! There are ten thousand behind us. Yes, you
can kill us; there are ten thousand more of us to kill yet."

The position of the soldiers was becoming critical, for they had
received strict orders not to make use of their weapons until the last
extremity. And how were they to prevent these furious people from
impaling themselves? Besides, the space was getting less; they were now
pushed back against the wall, and it was impossible to draw further
back. Their little troop--a mere handful of men--opposed to the rising
flood of miners, still held its own, however, and calmly executed the
brief orders given by the captain. The latter, with keen eyes and
nervously compressed lips, only feared lest they should be carried away
by this abuse. Already a young sergeant, a tall lean fellow whose thin
moustache was bristling up, was blinking his eyes in a disquieting
manner. Near him an old soldier, with tanned skin and stripes won in
twenty campaigns, had grown pale when he saw his bayonet twisted like a
straw. Another, doubtless a recruit still smelling the fields, became
very red every time he heard himself called "scum" and "riff-raff."
And the violence did not cease, the outstretched fists, the abominable
words, the shovelfuls of accusations and threats which buffeted their
faces. It required all the force of order to keep them thus, with mute
faces, in the proud, gloomy silence of military discipline.

A collision seemed inevitable, when Captain Richomme appeared from
behind the troop with his benevolent white head, overwhelmed by
emotion. He spoke out loudly:

"By God! this is idiotic! such tomfoolery can't go on!"

And he threw himself between the bayonets and the miners.

"Mates, listen to me. You know that I am an old workman, and that I
have always been one of you. Well, by God! I promise you, that if
they're not just with you, I'm the man to go and say to the bosses how
things lie. But this is too much, it does no good at all to howl bad
names at these good fellows, and try and get your bellies ripped up."

They listened, hesitating. But up above, unfortunately, little Négrel's
short profile reappeared. He feared, no doubt, that he would be accused
of sending a captain in place of venturing out himself; and he tried
to speak. But his voice was lost in the midst of so frightful a tumult
that he had to leave the window again, simply shrugging his shoulders.
Richomme then found it vain to entreat them in his own name, and to
repeat that the thing must be arranged between mates; they repelled
him, suspecting him. But he was obstinate and remained amongst them.

"By God! let them break my head as well as yours, for I don't leave you
while you are so foolish!"

Étienne, whom he begged to help him in making them hear reason, made
a gesture of powerlessness. It was too late, there were now more than
five hundred of them. And besides the madmen who were rushing up to
chase away the Borains, some came out of inquisitiveness, or to joke
and amuse themselves over the battle. In the midst of one group, at
some distance, Zacharie and Philoméne were looking on as at a theatre
so peacefully that they had brought their two children, Achille and
Désirée. Another stream was arriving from Réquillart, including Mouquet
and Mouquette. The former at once went on, grinning, to slap his friend
Zacharie on the back; while Mouquette, in a very excited condition,
rushed to the first rank of the evil-disposed.

Every minute, however, the captain looked down the Montsou road. The
desired reinforcements had not arrived, and his sixty men could hold
out no longer. At last it occurred to him to strike the imagination of
the crowd, and he ordered his men to load. The soldiers executed the
order, but the disturbance increased, the blustering, and the mockery.

"Ah! these shammers, they're going off to the target!" jeered the
women, the Brulé, the Levaque, and the others.

Maheude, with her breast covered by the little body of Estelle, who was
awake and crying, came so near that the sergeant asked her what she was
going to do with that poor little brat.

"What the devil's that to do with you?" she replied. "Fire at it if you
dare!"

The men shook their heads with contempt. None believed that they would
fire on them.

"There are no balls in their cartridges," said Levaque.

"Are we Cossacks?" cried Maheu. "You don't fire against Frenchmen, by
God!"

Others said that when people had been through the Crimean campaign they
were not afraid of lead. And all continued to thrust themselves on to
the rifles. If firing had begun at this moment the crowd would have
been mown down.

In the front rank Mouquette was choking with fury, thinking that the
soldiers were going to gash the women's skins. She had spat out all
her coarse words at them, and could find no vulgarity low enough, when
suddenly, having nothing left but that mortal offence with which to
bombard the faces of the troop, she exhibited her backside. With both
hands she raised her skirts, bent her back, and expanded the enormous
rotundity.

"Here, that's for you! and it's a lot too clean, you dirty blackguards!"

She ducked and butted so that each might have his share, repeating
after each thrust:

"There's for the officer! there's for the sergeant! there's for the
soldiers!"

A tempest of laughter arose; Bébert and Lydie were in convulsions;
Étienne himself, in spite of his sombre expectation, applauded this
insulting nudity. All of them, the banterers as well as the infuriated,
were now hooting the soldiers as though they had seen them stained by
a splash of filth; Catherine only, standing aside on some old timber,
remained silent with the blood at her heart, slowly carried away by the
hatred that was rising within her.

But a hustling took place. To calm the excitement of his men, the
captain decided to make prisoners. With a leap Mouquette escaped,
saving herself between the legs of her comrades. Three miners, Levaque
and two others, were seized among the more violent, and kept in sight
at the other end of the captains' room. Négrel and Dansaert, above,
were shouting to the captain to come in and take refuge with them. He
refused; he felt that these buildings with their doors without locks
would be carried by assault, and that he would undergo the shame of
being disarmed. His little troop was already growling with impatience;
it was impossible to flee before these wretches in sabots. The sixty,
with their backs to the wall and their rifles loaded, again faced the
mob.

At first there was a recoil, followed by deep silence; the strikers
were astonished at this energetic stroke. Then a cry arose calling for
the prisoners, demanding their immediate release. Some voices said that
they were being murdered in there. And without any attempt at concerted
action, carried away by the same impulse, by the same desire for
revenge, they all ran to the piles of bricks which stood near, those
bricks for which the marly soil supplied the clay, and which were baked
on the spot. The children brought them one by one, and the women filled
their skirts with them. Every one soon had her ammunition at her feet,
and the battle of stones began.

It was Mother Brulé who set to first. She broke the bricks on the
sharp edge of her knee, and with both hands she discharged the two
fragments. The Levaque woman was almost putting her shoulders out,
being so large and soft that she had to come near to get her aim, in
spite of Bouteloup's entreaties, and he dragged her back in the hope of
being able to lead her away now that her husband had been taken off.
They all grew excited, and Mouquette, tired of making herself bleed
by breaking the bricks on her overfat thighs, preferred to throw them
whole. Even the youngsters came into line, and Bébert showed Lydie how
the brick ought to be sent from under the elbow. It was a shower of
enormous hailstones, producing low thuds. And suddenly, in the midst
of these furies, Catherine was observed with her fists in the air also
brandishing half-bricks and throwing them with all the force of her
little arms. She could not have said why, she was suffocating, she was
dying of the desire to kill everybody. Would it not soon be done with,
this cursed life of misfortune? She had had enough of it, beaten and
driven away by her man, wandering about like a lost dog in the mud of
the roads, without being able to ask a crust from her father, who was
starving like herself. Things never seemed to get better; they were
getting worse ever since she could remember. And she broke the bricks
and threw them before her with the one idea of sweeping everything
away, her eyes so blinded that she could not even see whose jaws she
might be crushing.

Étienne, who had remained in front of the soldiers, nearly had his
skull broken. His ear was grazed, and turning round he started when he
realized that the brick had come from Catherine's feverish hands; but
at the risk of being killed he remained where he was, gazing at her.
Many others also forgot themselves there, absorbed in the battle, with
empty hands. Mouquet criticized the blows as though he were looking
on at a game of _bouchon_. Oh, that was well struck! and that
other, no luck! He joked, and with his elbow pushed Zacharie, who was
squabbling with Philoméne because he had boxed Achille's and Désirée's
ears, refusing to put them on his back so that they could see. There
were spectators crowded all along the road. And at the top of the slope
near the entrance to the settlement, old Bonnemort appeared, resting on
his stick, motionless against the rust-coloured sky.

As soon as the first bricks were thrown, Captain Richomme had again
placed himself between the soldiers and the miners. He was entreating
the one party, exhorting the other party, careless of danger, in such
despair that large tears were flowing from his eyes. It was impossible
to hear his words in the midst of the tumult; only his large grey
moustache could be seen moving.

But the hail of bricks came faster; the men were joining in, following
the example of the women.

Then Maheude noticed that Maheu was standing behind with empty hands
and sombre air.

"What's up with you?" she shouted. "Are you a coward? Are you going to
let your mates be carried off to prison? Ah! if only I hadn't got this
child, you should see!"

Estelle, who was clinging to her neck, screaming, prevented her from
joining Mother Brulé and the others. And as her man did not seem to
hear, she kicked some bricks against his legs.

"By God! will you take that? Must I spit in your face before people to
get your spirits up?"

Becoming very red, he broke some bricks and threw them. She lashed
him on, dazing him, shouting behind him cries of death, stifling her
daughter against her breast with the spasm of her arms; and he still
moved forward until he was opposite the guns.

Beneath this shower of stones the little troop was disappearing.
Fortunately they struck too high, and the wall was riddled. What was
to be done? The idea of going in, of turning their backs for a moment
turned the captain's pale face purple; but it was no longer possible,
they would be torn to pieces at the least movement. A brick had just
broken the peak of his cap, drops of blood were running down his
forehead. Several of his men were wounded; and he felt that they were
losing self-control in that unbridled instinct of self-defence when
obedience to leaders ceases. The sergeant had uttered a "By God!" for
his left shoulder had nearly been put out, and his flesh bruised by a
shock like the blow of a washerwoman's beetle against linen. Grazed
twice over, the recruit had his thumb smashed, while his right knee was
grazed. Were they to let themselves be worried much longer? A stone
having bounded back and struck the old soldier with the stripes beneath
the belly, his cheeks turned green, and his weapon trembled as he
stretched it out at the end of his lean arms. Three times the captain
was on the point of ordering them to fire. He was choked by anguish;
an endless struggle for several seconds set at odds in his mind all
ideas and duties, all his beliefs as a man and as a soldier. The rain
of bricks increased, and he opened his mouth and was about to shout
"Fire!" when the guns went off of themselves three shots at first,
then five, then the roll of a volley, then one by itself, some time
afterwards, in the deep silence.

There was stupefaction on all sides. They had fired, and the gaping
crowd stood motionless, as yet unable to believe it. But heart-rending
cries arose while the bugle was sounding to cease firing. And here was
a mad panic, the rush of cattle filled with grapeshot, a wild flight
through the mud. Bébert and Lydie had fallen one on top of the other
at the first three shots, the little girl struck in the face, the boy
wounded beneath the left shoulder. She was crushed, and never stirred
again. But he moved, seized her with both arms in the convulsion of his
agony, as if he wanted to take her again, as he had taken her at the
bottom of the black hiding-place where they had spent the past night.
And Jeanlin, who just then ran up from Réquillart still half asleep,
kicking about in the midst of the smoke, saw him embrace his little
wife and die.

The five other shots had brought down Mother Brulé and Captain
Richomme. Struck in the back as he was entreating his mates, he had
fallen on to his knees, and slipping on to one hip he was groaning on
the ground with eyes still full of tears. The old woman, whose breast
had been opened, had fallen back stiff and crackling, like a bundle of
dry faggots, stammering one last oath in the gurgling of blood.

But then the volley swept the field, mowing down the inquisitive groups
who were laughing at the battle a hundred paces off. A ball entered
Mouquet's mouth and threw him down with fractured skull at the feet of
Zacharie and Philoméne, whose two youngsters were splashed with red
drops. At the same moment Mouquette received two balls in the belly.
She had seen the soldiers take aim, and in an instinctive movement of
her good nature she had thrown herself in front of Catherine, shouting
out to her to take care; she uttered a loud cry and fell on to her
back overturned by the shock. Étienne ran up, wishing to raise her and
take her away; but with a gesture she said it was all over. Then she
groaned, but without ceasing to smile at both of them, as though she
were glad to see them together now that she was going away.

All seemed to be over, and the hurricane of balls was lost in the
distance as far as the frontages of the settlement, when the last
shot, isolated and delayed, was fired. Maheu, struck in the heart,
turned round and fell with his face down into a puddle black with coal.
Maheude leant down in stupefaction.

"Eh! old man, get up. It's nothing, is it?"

Her hands were engaged with Estelle, whom she had to put under one arm
in order to turn her man's head.

"Say something! where are you hurt?"

His eyes were vacant, and his mouth was slavered with bloody foam. She
understood: he was dead. Then she remained seated in the mud with her
daughter under her arm like a bundle, gazing at her old man with a
besotted air.

The pit was free. With a nervous movement the captain had taken off
and then put on his cap, struck by a stone; he preserved his pallid
stiffness in face of the disaster of his life, while his men with mute
faces were reloading. The frightened faces of Négrel and Dansaert could
be seen at the window of the receiving-room. Souvarine was behind them
with a deep wrinkle on his forehead, as though the nail of his fixed
idea had printed itself there threateningly. On the other side of the
horizon, at the edge of the plain, Bonnemort had not moved, supported
by one hand on his stick, the other hand up to his brows to see better
the murder of his people below. The wounded were howling, the dead were
growing cold, in twisted postures, muddy with the liquid mud of the
thaw, here and there forming puddles among the inky patches of coal
which reappeared beneath the tattered snow. And in the midst of these
human corpses, all small, poor and lean in their wretchedness, lay
Trompette's carcass, a monstrous and pitiful mass of dead flesh.

Étienne had not been killed. He was still waiting beside Catherine, who
had fallen from fatigue and anguish, when a sonorous voice made him
start. It was Abbé Ranvier, who was coming back after saying mass, and
who, with both arms in the air, with the inspired fury of a prophet,
was calling the wrath of God down on the murderers. He foretold the era
of justice, the approaching extermination of the middle class by fire
from heaven, since it was bringing its crimes to a climax by massacring
the workers and the disinherited of the world.



PART SEVEN



CHAPTER I


The shots fired at Montsou had reached as far as Paris with a
formidable echo. For four days all the opposition journals had been
indignant, displaying atrocious narratives on their front pages:
twenty-five wounded, fourteen dead, including three women and two
children. And there were prisoners taken as well; Levaque had become a
sort of hero, and was credited with a reply of antique sublimity to the
examining magistrate. The empire, hit in mid career by these few balls,
affected the calm of omnipotence, without itself realizing the gravity
of its wound. It was simply an unfortunate collision, something lost
over there in the black country, very far from the Parisian boulevards
which formed public opinion; it would soon be forgotten. The Company
had received official intimation to hush up the affair, and to put
an end to a strike which from its irritating duration was becoming a
social danger.

So on Wednesday morning three of the directors appeared at Montsou. The
little town, sick at heart, which had not dared hitherto to rejoice
over the massacre, now breathed again, and tasted the joy of being
saved. The weather, too, had become fine; there was a bright sun--one
of those first February days which, with their moist warmth, tip the
lilac shoots with green. All the shutters had been flung back at the
administration building, the vast structure seemed alive again. And
cheering rumours were circulating; it was said that the directors,
deeply affected by the catastrophe, had rushed down to open their
paternal arms to the wanderers from the settlements. Now that the
blow had fallen--a more vigorous one doubtless than they had wished
for--they were prodigal in their task of relief, and decreed measures
that were excellent though tardy. First of all they sent away the
Borains, and made much of this extreme concession to their workmen.
Then they put an end to the military occupation of the pits, which
were no longer threatened by the crushed strikers. They also obtained
silence regarding the sentinel who had disappeared from the Voreux;
the district had been searched without finding either the gun or the
corpse, and although there was a suspicion of crime, it was decided
to consider the soldier a deserter. In every way they thus tried to
attenuate matters, trembling with fear for the morrow, judging it
dangerous to acknowledge the irresistible savagery of a crowd set free
amid the falling structure of the old world. And besides, this work of
conciliation did not prevent them from bringing purely administrative
affairs to a satisfactory conclusion; for Deneulin had been seen to
return to the administration buildings, where he met M. Hennebeau.
The negotiations for the purchase of Vandame continued, and it was
considered certain that Deneulin would accept the Company's offers.

But what particularly stirred the country were the great yellow posters
which the directors had stuck up in profusion on the walls. On them
were to be read these few lines, in very large letters: "Workers of
Montsou! We do not wish that the errors of which you have lately seen
the sad effects should deprive sensible and willing workmen of their
livelihood. We shall therefore reopen all the pits on Monday morning,
and when work is resumed we shall examine with care and consideration
those cases in which there may be room for improvement. We shall, in
fact, do all that is just or possible to do." In one morning the ten
thousand colliers passed before these placards. Not one of them spoke,
many shook their heads, others went away with trailing steps, without
changing one line in their motionless faces.

Up till now the settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante had persisted in
its fierce resistance. It seemed that the blood of their mates, which
had reddened the mud of the pit, was barricading the road against
the others. Scarcely a dozen had gone down, merely Pierron and some
sneaks of his sort, whose departure and arrival were gloomily watched
without a gesture or a threat. Therefore a deep suspicion greeted the
placard stuck on to the church. Nothing was said about the returned
certificates in that. Would the Company refuse to take them on again?
and the fear of retaliations, the fraternal idea of protesting against
the dismissal of the more compromised men, made them all obstinate
still. It was dubious; they would see. They would return to the pit
when these gentlemen were good enough to put things plainly. Silence
crushed the low houses. Hunger itself seemed nothing; all might die now
that violent death had passed over their roofs.

But one house, that of the Maheus, remained especially black and mute
in its overwhelming grief. Since she had followed her man to the
cemetery, Maheude kept her teeth clenched. After the battle, she had
allowed Étienne to bring back Catherine muddy and half dead; and as she
was undressing her, before the young man, in order to put her to bed,
she thought for a moment that her daughter also had received a ball
in the belly, for the chemise was marked with large patches of blood.
But she soon understood that it was the flood of puberty, which was
at last breaking out in the shock of this abominable day. Ah! another
piece of luck, that wound! A fine present, to be able to make children
for the gendarmes to kill; and she never spoke to Catherine, nor did
she, indeed, talk to Étienne. The latter slept with Jeanlin, at the
risk of being arrested, seized by such horror at the idea of going back
to the darkness of Réquillart that he would have preferred a prison.
A shudder shook him, the horror of the night after all those deaths,
an unacknowledged fear of the little soldier who slept down there
underneath the rocks. Besides, he dreamed of a prison as of a refuge
in the midst of the torment of his defeat; but they did not trouble
him, and he dragged on his wretched hours, not knowing how to weary out
his body. Only at times Maheude looked at both of them, at him and her
daughter, with a spiteful air, as though she were asking them what they
were doing in her house.

Once more they were all snoring in a heap. Father Bonnemort occupied
the former bed of the two youngsters, who slept with Catherine now
that poor Alzire no longer dug her hump into her big sister's ribs. It
was when going to bed that the mother felt the emptiness of the house
by the coldness of her bed, which was now too large. In vain she took
Estelle to fill the vacancy; that did not replace her man, and she wept
quietly for hours. Then the days began to pass by as before, always
without bread, but without the luck to die outright; things picked up
here and there rendered to the wretches the poor service of keeping
them alive. Nothing had changed in their existence, only her man was
gone.

On the afternoon of the fifth day, Étienne, made miserable by the sight
of this silent woman, left the room, and walked slowly along the paved
street of the settlement. The inaction which weighed on him impelled
him to take constant walks, with arms swinging idly and lowered head,
always tortured by the same thought. He tramped thus for half an hour,
when he felt, by an increase in his discomfort, that his mates were
coming to their doors to look at him. His little remaining popularity
had been driven to the winds by that fusillade, and he never passed
now without meeting fiery looks which pursued him. When he raised his
head there were threatening men there, women drawing aside the curtains
from their windows; and beneath this still silent accusation and the
restrained anger of these eyes, enlarged by hunger and tears, he became
awkward and could scarcely walk straight. These dumb reproaches seemed
to be always increasing behind him. He became so terrified, lest he
should hear the entire settlement come out to shout its wretchedness at
him, that he returned shuddering. But at the Maheus' the scene which
met him still further agitated him. Old Bonnemort was near the cold
fireplace, nailed to his chair ever since two neighbours, on the day
of the slaughter, had found him on the ground, with his stick broken,
struck down like an old thunder-stricken tree. And while Lénore and
Henri, to beguile their hunger, were scraping, with deafening noise, an
old saucepan in which cabbages had been boiled the day before, Maheude,
after having placed Estelle on the table, was standing up threatening
Catherine with her fist.

"Say that again, by God! Just dare to say that again!"

Catherine had declared her intention to go back to the Voreux. The
idea of not gaining her bread, of being thus tolerated in her mother's
house, like a useless animal that is in the way, was becoming every
day more unbearable; and if it had not been for the fear of Chaval she
would have gone down on Tuesday.

She said again, stammering:

"What would you have? We can't go on doing nothing. We should get
bread, anyhow."

Maheude interrupted her.

"Listen to me: the first one of you who goes to work, I'll do for you.
No, that would be too much, to kill the father and go on taking it out
of the children! I've had enough of it; I'd rather see you all put in
your coffins, like him that's gone already."

And her long silence broke out into a furious flood of words. A fine
sum Catherine would bring her! hardly thirty sous, to which they might
add twenty sous if the bosses were good enough to find work for that
brigand Jeanlin. Fifty sous, and seven mouths to feed! The brats were
only good to swallow soup. As to the grandfather, he must have broken
something in his brain when he fell, for he seemed imbecile; unless it
had turned his blood to see the soldiers firing at his mates.

"That's it, old man, isn't it? They've quite done for you. It's no good
having your hands still strong; you're done for."

Bonnemort looked at her with his dim eyes without understanding. He
remained for hours with fixed gaze, having no intelligence now except
to spit into a plate filled with ashes, which was put beside him for
cleanliness.

"And they've not settled his pension, either," she went on. "And I'm
sure they won't give it, because of our ideas. No! I tell you that
we've had too much to do with those people who bring ill luck."

"But," Catherine ventured to say, "they promise on the placard--"

"Just let me alone with your damned placard! More birdlime for catching
us and eating us. They can be mighty kind now that they have ripped us
open."

"But where shall we go, mother? They won't keep us at the settlement,
sure enough."

Maheude made a vague, terrified gesture. Where should they go to? She
did not know at all; she avoided thinking, it made her mad. They would
go elsewhere--somewhere. And as the noise of the saucepan was becoming
unbearable, she turned round on Lénore and Henri and boxed their ears.
The fall of Estelle, who had been crawling on all fours, increased the
disturbance. The mother quieted her with a push--a good thing if it had
killed her! She spoke of Alzire; she wished the others might have that
child's luck. Then suddenly she burst out into loud sobs, with her head
against the wall.

Étienne, who was standing by, did not dare to interfere. He no longer
counted for anything in the house, and even the children drew back from
him suspiciously. But the unfortunate woman's tears went to his heart,
and he murmured:

"Come, come! courage! we must try to get out of it."

She did not seem to hear him, and was bemoaning herself now in a low
continuous complaint.

"Ah! the wretchedness! is it possible? Things did go on before these
horrors. We ate our bread dry, but we were all together; and what has
happened, good God! What have we done, then, that we should have such
troubles--some under the earth, and the others with nothing left but
to long to get there too? It's true enough that they harnessed us
like horses to work, and it's not at all a just sharing of things to
be always getting the stick and making rich people's fortunes bigger
without hope of ever tasting the good things. There's no pleasure in
life when hope goes. Yes, that couldn't have gone on longer; we had to
breathe a bit. If we had only known! Is it possible to make oneself so
wretched through wanting justice?"

Sighs swelled her breast, and her voice choked with immense sadness.

"Then there are always some clever people there who promise you that
everything can be arranged by just taking a little trouble. Then one
loses one's head, and one suffers so much from things as they are that
one asks for things that can't be. Now, I was dreaming like a fool; I
seemed to see a life of good friendship with everybody; I went off into
the air, my faith! into the clouds. And then one breaks one's back when
one tumbles down into the mud again. It's not true; there's nothing
over there of the things that people tell of. What there is, is only
wretchedness, ah! wretchedness, as much as you like of it, and bullets
into the bargain."

Étienne listened to this lamentation, and every tear struck him with
remorse. He knew not what to say to calm Maheude, broken by her
terrible fall from the heights of the ideal. She had come back to the
middle of the room, and was now looking at him; she addressed him with
contemptuous familiarity in a last cry of rage:

"And you, do you talk of going back to the pit, too, after driving us
out of the bloody place! I've nothing to reproach you with; but if I
were in your shoes I should be dead of grief by now after causing such
harm to the mates."

He was about to reply, but then shrugged his shoulders in despair. What
was the good of explaining, for she would not understand in her grief?
And he went away, for he was suffering too much, and resumed his wild
walk outside.

There again he found the settlement apparently waiting for him, the
men at the doors, the women at the windows. As soon as he appeared
growls were heard, and the crowd increased. The breath of gossip,
which had been swelling for four days, was breaking out in a universal
malediction. Fists were stretched towards him, mothers spitefully
pointed him out to their boys, old men spat as they looked at him. It
was the change which follows on the morrow of defeat, the fatal reverse
of popularity, an execration exasperated by all the suffering endured
without result. He had to pay for famine and death.

Zacharie, who came up with Philoméne, hustled Étienne as he went out,
grinning maliciously.

"Well, he gets fat. It's filling, then, to live on other people's
deaths?"

The Levaque woman had already come to her door with Bouteloup. She
spoke of Bébert, her youngster, killed by a bullet, and cried:

"Yes, there are cowards who get children murdered! Let him go and look
for mine in the earth if he wants to give it me back!"

She was forgetting her man in prison, for the household was going on
since Bouteloup remained; but she thought of him, however, and went on
in a shrill voice:

"Get along! rascals may walk about while good people are put away!"

In avoiding her, Étienne tumbled on to Pierronne, who was running
up across the gardens. She had regarded her mother's death as a
deliverance, for the old woman's violence threatened to get them
hanged; nor did she weep over Pierron's little girl, that street-walker
Lydie--a good riddance. But she joined in with her neighbours with the
idea of getting reconciled with them.

"And my mother, eh, and the little girl? You were seen; you were hiding
yourself behind them when they caught the lead instead of you!"

What was to be done? Strangle Pierronne and the others, and fight the
whole settlement? Étienne wanted to do so for a moment. The blood was
throbbing in his head, he now looked upon his mates as brutes, he was
irritated to see them so unintelligent and barbarous that they wanted
to revenge themselves on him for the logic of facts. How stupid it all
was! and he felt disgust at his powerlessness to tame them again; and
satisfied himself with hastening his steps as though he were deaf to
abuse. Soon it became a flight; every house hooted him as he passed,
they hastened on his heels, it was a whole nation cursing him with a
voice that was becoming like thunder in its overwhelming hatred. It
was he, the exploiter, the murderer, who was the sole cause of their
misfortune. He rushed out of the settlement, pale and terrified, with
this yelling crowd behind his back. When he at last reached the main
road most of them left him; but a few persisted, until at the bottom
of the slope before the Avantage he met another group coming from the
Voreux.

Old Mouque and Chaval were there. Since the death of his daughter
Mouquette, and of his son Mouquet, the old man had continued to act
as groom without a word of regret or complaint. Suddenly, when he saw
Étienne, he was shaken by fury, tears broke out from his eyes, and a
flood of coarse words burst from his mouth, black and bleeding from his
habit of chewing tobacco.

"You devil! you bloody swine! you filthy snout! Wait, you've got to pay
me for my poor children; you'll have to come to it!"

He picked up a brick, broke it, and threw both pieces.

"Yes! yes! clear him off!" shouted Chaval, who was grinning in
excitement, delighted at this vengeance. "Every one gets his turn; now
you're up against the wall, you dirty hound!"

And he also attacked Étienne with stones. A savage clamour arose; they
all took up bricks, broke them, and threw them, to rip him open, as
they would like to have done to the soldiers. He was dazed and could
not flee; he faced them, trying to calm them with phrases. His old
speeches, once so warmly received, came back to his lips. He repeated
the words with which he had intoxicated them at the time when he could
keep them in hand like a faithful flock; but his power was dead, and
only stones replied to him. He had just been struck on the left arm,
and was drawing back, in great peril, when he found himself hemmed in
against the front of the Avantage.

For the last few moments Rasseneur had been at his door.

"Come in," he said simply.

Étienne hesitated; it choked him to take refuge there.

"Come in; then I'll speak to them."

He resigned himself, and took refuge at the other end of the parlour,
while the innkeeper filled up the doorway with his broad shoulders.

"Look here, my friends, just be reasonable. You know very well that
I've never deceived you. I've always been in favour of quietness, and
if you had listened to me, you certainly wouldn't be where you are now."

Rolling his shoulders and belly, he went on at length, allowing his
facile eloquence to flow with the lulling gentleness of warm water. And
all his old success came back; he regained his popularity, naturally
and without an effort, as if he had never been hooted and called a
coward a month before. Voices arose in approval: "Very good! we are
with you! that is the way to put it!" Thundering applause broke out.

Étienne, in the background, grew faint, and there was bitterness at his
heart. He recalled Rasseneur's prediction in the forest, threatening
him with the ingratitude of the mob. What imbecile brutality! What an
abominable forgetfulness of old services! It was a blind force which
constantly devoured itself. And beneath his anger at seeing these
brutes spoil their own cause, there was despair at his own fall and
the tragic end of his ambition. What! was it already done for! He
remembered hearing beneath the beeches three thousand hearts beating
to the echo of his own. On that day he had held his popularity in both
hands. Those people belonged to him; he felt that he was their master.
Mad dreams had then intoxicated him. Montsou at his feet, Paris beyond,
becoming a deputy perhaps, crushing the middle class in a speech, the
first speech ever pronounced by a workman in a parliament. And it
was all over! He awakened, miserable and detested; his people were
dismissing him by flinging bricks.

Rasseneur's voice rose higher:

"Never will violence succeed; the world can't be remade in a day. Those
who have promised you to change it all at one stroke are either making
fun of you or they are rascals!"

"Bravo! bravo!" shouted the crowd.

Who then was the guilty one? And this question which Étienne put to
himself overwhelmed him more than ever. Was it in fact his fault, this
misfortune which was making him bleed, the wretchedness of some, the
murder of others, these women, these children, lean, and without bread?
He had had that lamentable vision one evening before the catastrophe.
But then a force was lifting him, he was carried away with his mates.
Besides, he had never led them, it was they who led him, who obliged
him to do things which he would never have done if it were not for the
shock of that crowd pushing behind him. At each new violence he had
been stupefied by the course of events, for he had neither foreseen
nor desired any of them. Could he anticipate, for instance, that his
followers in the settlement would one day stone him? These infuriated
people lied when they accused him of having promised them an existence
all fodder and laziness. And in this justification, in this reasoning,
in which he tried to fight against his remorse, was hidden the anxiety
that he had not risen to the height of his task; it was the doubt of
the half-cultured man still perplexing him. But he felt himself at the
end of his courage, he was no longer at heart with his mates; he feared
this enormous mass of the people, blind and irresistible, moving like a
force of nature, sweeping away everything, outside rules and theories.
A certain repugnance was detaching him from them--the discomfort of his
new tastes, the slow movement of all his being towards a superior class.

At this moment Rasseneur's voice was lost in the midst of enthusiastic
shouts:

"Hurrah for Rasseneur! he's the fellow! Bravo, bravo!"

The innkeeper shut the door, while the band dispersed; and the two men
looked at each other in silence. They both shrugged their shoulders.
They finished up by having a drink together.

On the same day there was a great dinner at Piolaine; they were
celebrating the betrothal of Négrel and Cécile. Since the previous
evening the Grégoires had had the dining-room waxed and the
drawing-room dusted. Mélanie reigned in the kitchen, watching over the
roasts and stirring the sauces, the odour of which ascended to the
attics. It had been decided that Francis, the coachman, should help
Honorine to wait. The gardener's wife would wash up, and the gardener
would open the gate. Never had the substantial, patriarchal old house
been in such a state of gaiety.

Everything went off beautifully, Madame Hennebeau was charming with
Cécile, and she smiled at Négrel when the Montsou lawyer gallantly
proposed the health of the future household. M. Hennebeau was also very
amiable. His smiling face struck the guests. The report circulated that
he was rising in favour with the directors, and that he would soon be
made an officer of the Legion of Honour, on account of the energetic
manner in which he had put down the strike. Nothing was said about
recent events; but there was an air of triumph in the general joy,
and the dinner became the official celebration of a victory. At last,
then, they were saved, and once more they could begin to eat and sleep
in peace. A discreet allusion was made to those dead whose blood the
Voreux mud had yet scarcely drunk up. It was a necessary lesson: and
they were all affected when the Grégoires added that it was now the
duty of all to go and heal the wounds in the settlements. They had
regained their benevolent placidity, excusing their brave miners, whom
they could already see again at the bottom of the mines, giving a good
example of everlasting resignation. The Montsou notables, who had now
left off trembling, agreed that this question of the wage system ought
to be studied, cautiously. The roasts came on; and the victory became
complete when M. Hennebeau read a letter from the bishop announcing
Abbé Ranvier's removal. The middle class throughout the province
had been roused to anger by the story of this priest who treated
the soldiers as murderers. And when the dessert appeared the lawyer
resolutely declared that he was a free-thinker.

Deneulin was there with his two daughters. In the midst of the joy, he
forced himself to hide the melancholy of his ruin. That very morning he
had signed the sale of his Vandame concession to the Montsou Company.
With the knife at his throat he had submitted to the directors'
demands, at last giving up to them that prey they had been on the
watch for so long, scarcely obtaining from them the money necessary
to pay off his creditors. He had even accepted, as a lucky chance, at
the last moment, their offer to keep him as divisional engineer, thus
resigning himself to watch, as a simple salaried servant, over that pit
which had swallowed up his fortune. It was the knell of small personal
enterprises, the approaching disappearance of the masters, eaten up,
one by one, by the ever-hungry ogre of capital, drowned in the rising
flood of great companies. He alone paid the expenses of the strike;
he understood that they were drinking to his disaster when they drank
to M. Hennebeau's rosette. And he only consoled himself a little when
he saw the fine courage of Lucie and Jeanne, who looked charming in
their done-up toilettes, laughing at the downfall, like happy tomboys
disdainful of money.

When they passed into the drawing-room for coffee, M. Grégoire drew his
cousin aside and congratulated him on the courage of his decision.

"What would you have? Your real mistake was to risk the million of your
Montsou denier over Vandame. You gave yourself a terrible wound, and it
has melted away in that dog's labour, while mine, which has not stirred
from my drawer, still keeps me comfortably doing nothing, as it will
keep my grandchildren's children."



CHAPTER II


On Sunday Étienne escaped from the settlement at nightfall. A very
clear sky, sprinkled with stars, lit up the earth with the blue haze
of twilight. He went down towards the canal, and followed the bank
slowly, in the direction of Marchiennes. It was his favourite walk,
a grass-covered path two leagues long, passing straight beside this
geometrical water-way, which unrolled itself like an endless ingot
of molten silver. He never met any one there. But on this day he was
vexed to see a man come up to him. Beneath the pale starlight, the two
solitary walkers only recognized each other when they were face to face.

"What! is it you?" said Étienne.

Souvarine nodded his head without replying. For a moment they remained
motionless, then side by side they set out towards Marchiennes. Each of
them seemed to be continuing his own reflections, as though they were
far away from each other.

"Have you seen in the paper about Pluchart's success at Paris?" asked
Étienne, at length. "After that meeting at Belleville, they waited for
him on the pavement, and gave him an ovation. Oh! he's afloat now, in
spite of his sore throat. He can do what he likes in the future."

The engine-man shrugged his shoulders. He felt contempt for fine
talkers, fellows who go into politics as one goes to the bar, to get an
income out of phrases.

Étienne was now studying Darwin. He had read fragments, summarized
and popularized in a five-sou volume; and out of this ill-understood
reading he had gained for himself a revolutionary idea of the struggle
for existence, the lean eating the fat, the strong people devouring the
pallid middle class. But Souvarine furiously attacked the stupidity
of the Socialists who accept Darwin, that apostle of scientific
inequality, whose famous selection was only good for aristocratic
philosophers. His mate persisted, however, wishing to reason out the
matter, and expressing his doubts by an hypothesis: supposing the old
society were no longer to exist, swept away to the crumbs; well, was
it not to be feared that the new world would grow up again, slowly
spoilt by the same injustices, some sick and others flourishing, some
more skilful and intelligent, fattening on everything, and others
imbecile and lazy, becoming slaves again? But before this vision of
eternal wretchedness, the engine-man shouted out fiercely that if
justice was not possible with man, then man must disappear. For every
rotten society there must be a massacre, until the last creature was
exterminated. And there was silence again.

For a long time, with sunken head, Souvarine walked over the short
grass, so absorbed that he kept to the extreme edge, by the water, with
the quiet certainty of a sleep-walker on a roof. Then he shuddered
causelessly, as though he had stumbled against a shadow. His eyes
lifted and his face was very pale; he said softly to his companion:

"Did I ever tell you how she died?"

"Whom do you mean?"

"My wife, over there, in Russia."

Étienne made a vague gesture, astonished at the tremor in his voice and
at the sudden desire for confidence in this lad, who was usually so
impassive in his stoical detachment from others and from himself. He
only knew that the woman was his mistress, and that she had been hanged
at Moscow.

"The affair hadn't gone off," Souvarine said, with eyes still vacantly
following the white stream of the canal between the bluish colonnades
of tall trees. "We had been a fortnight at the bottom of a hole
undermining the railway, and it was not the imperial train that was
blown up, it was a passenger train. Then they arrested Annutchka. She
brought us bread every evening, disguised as a peasant woman. She lit
the fuse, too, because a man might have attracted attention. I followed
the trial, hidden in the crowd, for six days."

His voice became thick, and he coughed as though he were choking.

"Twice I wanted to cry out, and to rush over the people's heads to join
her. But what was the good? One man less would be one soldier less; and
I could see that she was telling me not to come, when her large eyes
met mine."

He coughed again.

"On the last day in the square I was there. It was raining; they
stupidly lost their heads, put out by the falling rain. It took twenty
minutes to hang the other four; the cord broke, they could not finish
the fourth. Annutchka was standing up waiting. She could not see me,
she was looking for me in the crowd. I got on to a post and she saw me,
and our eyes never turned from each other. When she was dead she was
still looking at me. I waved my hat; I came away."

There was silence again. The white road of the canal unrolled to the
far distance, and they both walked with the same quiet step as though
each had fallen back into his isolation. At the horizon, the pale water
seemed to open the sky with a little hole of light.

"It was our punishment," Souvarine went on roughly. "We were guilty to
love each other. Yes, it is well that she is dead; heroes will be born
from her blood, and I no longer have any cowardice at my heart. Ah!
nothing, neither parents, nor wife, nor friend! Nothing to make my hand
tremble on the day when I must take others' lives or give up my own."

Étienne had stopped, shuddering in the cool night. He discussed no
more, he simply said:

"We have gone far; shall we go back?"

They went back towards the Voreux slowly, and he added, after a few
paces:

"Have you seen the new placards?"

The Company had that morning put up some more large yellow posters.
They were clearer and more conciliatory, and the Company undertook
to take back the certificates of those miners who went down on the
following day. Everything would be forgotten, and pardon was offered
even to those who were most implicated.

"Yes, I've seen," replied the engine-man.

"Well, what do you think of it?"

"I think that it's all up. The flock will go down again. You are all
too cowardly."

Étienne feverishly excused his mates: a man may be brave, a mob which
is dying of hunger has no strength. Step by step they were returning to
the Voreux; and before the black mass of the pit he continued swearing
that he, at least, would never go down; but he could forgive those
who did. Then, as the rumour ran that the carpenters had not had time
to repair the tubbing, he asked for information. Was it true? Had the
weight of the soil against the timber which formed the internal skirt
of scaffolding to the shaft so pushed it in that the winding-cages
rubbed as they went down for a length of over fifty metres?

Souvarine, who once more became uncommunicative, replied briefly. He
had been working the day before, and the cage did, in fact, jar; the
engine-men had even had to double the speed to pass that spot. But all
the bosses received any observations with the same irritating remark:
it was coal they wanted; that could be repaired later on.

"You see that will smash up!" Étienne murmured. "It will be a fine
time!"

With eyes vaguely fixed on the pit in the shadow, Souvarine quietly
concluded:

"If it does smash up, the mates will know it, since you advise them to
go down again."

Nine o'clock struck at the Montsou steeple; and his companion having
said that he was going to bed, he added, without putting out his hand:

"Well, good-bye. I'm going away."

"What! you're going away?"

"Yes, I've asked for my certificate back. I'm going elsewhere."

Étienne, stupefied and affected, looked at him. After walking for two
hours he said that to him! And in so calm a voice, while the mere
announcement of this sudden separation made his own heart ache. They
had got to know each other, they had toiled together; that always makes
one sad, the idea of not seeing a person again.

"You're going away! And where do you go?"

"Over there--I don't know at all."

"But I shall see you again?"

"No, I think not."

They were silent and remained for a moment facing each other without
finding anything to say.

"Then good-bye."

"Good-bye."

While Étienne ascended toward the settlement, Souvarine turned and
again went along the canal bank; and there, now alone, he continued to
walk, with sunken head, so lost in the darkness that he seemed merely
a moving shadow of the night. Now and then he stopped, he counted the
hours that struck afar. When he heard midnight strike he left the bank
and turned towards the Voreux.

At that time the pit was empty, and he only met a sleepy-eyed captain.
It was not until two o'clock that they would begin to get up steam to
resume work. First he went to take from a cupboard a jacket which he
pretended to have forgotten. Various tools--a drill armed with its
screw, a small but very strong saw, a hammer, and a chisel--were rolled
up in this jacket. Then he left. But instead of going out through the
shed he passed through the narrow corridor which led to the ladder
passage. With his jacket under his arm he quietly went down without a
lamp, measuring the depth by counting the ladders. He knew that the
cage jarred at three hundred and seventy-four metres against the fifth
row of the lower tubbing. When he had counted fifty-four ladders he
put out his hand and was able to feel the swelling of the planking.
It was there. Then, with the skill and coolness of a good workman who
has been reflecting over his task for a long time, he set to work. He
began by sawing a panel in the brattice so as to communicate with the
winding-shaft. With the help of matches, quickly lighted and blown out,
he was then able to ascertain the condition of the tubbing and of the
recent repairs.

Between Calais and Valenciennes the sinking of mine shafts was
surrounded by immense difficulties on account of the masses of
subterranean water in great sheets at the level of the lowest valleys.
Only the construction of tubbings, frameworks jointed like the stays
of a barrel, could keep out the springs which flow in and isolate the
shafts in the midst of the lakes, which with deep obscure waves beat
against the walls. It had been necessary in sinking the Voreux to
establish two tubbings: that of the upper level, in the shifting sands
and white clays bordering the chalky stratum, and fissured in every
part, swollen with water like a sponge; then that of the lower level,
immediately above the coal stratum, in a yellow sand as fine as flour,
flowing with liquid fluidity; it was here that the Torrent was to be
found, that subterranean sea so dreaded in the coal pits of the Nord,
a sea with its storms and its shipwrecks, an unknown and unfathomable
sea, rolling its dark floods more than three hundred metres beneath the
daylight. Usually the tubbings resisted the enormous pressure; the only
thing to be dreaded was the piling up of the neighbouring soil, shaken
by the constant movement of the old galleries which were filling up.
In this descent of the rocks lines of fracture were sometimes produced
which slowly extended as far as the scaffolding, at last perforating
it and pushing it into the shaft; and there was the great danger of a
landslip and a flood filling the pit with an avalanche of earth and a
deluge of springs.

Souvarine, sitting astride in the opening he had made, discovered a
very serious defect in the fifth row of tubbing. The wood was bellied
out from the framework; several planks had even come out of their
shoulder-pieces. Abundant filtrations, _pichoux_ the miners call
them, were jetting out of the joints through the tarred oakum with
which they were caulked. The carpenters, pressed for time, had been
content to place iron squares at the angles, so carelessly that not all
the screws were put in. A considerable movement was evidently going on
behind in the sand of the Torrent.

Then with his wimble he unscrewed the squares so that another push
would tear them all off. It was a foolhardy task, during which he
frequently only just escaped from falling headlong down the hundred and
eighty metres which separated him from the bottom. He had been obliged
to seize the oak guides, the joists along which the cages slid; and
suspended over the void he traversed the length of the cross-beams with
which they were joined from point to point, slipping along, sitting
down, turning over, simply buttressing himself on an elbow or a knee,
with tranquil contempt of death. A breath would have sent him over,
and three times he caught himself up without a shudder. First he felt
with his hand and then worked, only lighting a match when he lost
himself in the midst of these slimy beams. After loosening the screws
he attacked the wood itself, and the peril became still greater. He
had sought for the key, the piece which held the others; he attacked
it furiously, making holes in it, sawing it, thinning it so that it
lost its resistance; while through the holes and the cracks the water
which escaped in small jets blinded him and soaked him in icy rain.
Two matches were extinguished. They all became damp and then there was
night, the bottomless depth of darkness.

From this moment he was seized by rage. The breath of the invisible
intoxicated him, the black horror of this rain-beaten hole urged him
to mad destruction. He wreaked his fury at random against the tubbing,
striking where he could with his wimble, with his saw, seized by the
desire to bring the whole thing at once down on his head. He brought
as much ferocity to the task as though he had been digging a knife
into the skin of some execrated living creature. He would kill the
Voreux at last, that evil beast with ever-open jaws which had swallowed
so much human flesh! The bite of his tools could be heard, his spine
lengthened, he crawled, climbed down, then up again, holding on by a
miracle, in continual movement, the flight of a nocturnal bird amid the
scaffolding of a belfry.

But he grew calm, dissatisfied with himself. Why could not things be
done coolly? Without haste he took breath, and then went back into
the ladder passage, stopping up the hole by replacing the panel which
he had sawn. That was enough; he did not wish to raise the alarm by
excessive damage which would have been repaired immediately. The beast
was wounded in the belly; we should see if it was still alive at night.
And he had left his mark; the frightened world would know that the
beast had not died a natural death. He took his time in methodically
rolling up his tools in his jacket, and slowly climbed up the ladders.
Then, when he had emerged from the pit without being seen, it did not
even occur to him to go and change his clothes. Three o'clock struck.
He remained standing on the road waiting.

At the same hour Étienne, who was not asleep, was disturbed by a slight
sound in the thick night of the room. He distinguished the low breath
of the children, and the snoring of Bonnemort and Maheude; while
Jeanlin near him was breathing with a prolonged flute-like whistle.
No doubt he had dreamed, and he was turning back when the noise began
again. It was the creaking of a palliasse, the stifled effort of
someone who is getting up. Then he imagined that Catherine must be ill.

"I say, is it you? What is the matter?" he asked in a low voice.

No one replied, and the snoring of the others continued. For five
minutes nothing stirred. Then there was fresh creaking. Feeling certain
this time that he was not mistaken, he crossed the room, putting his
hands out into the darkness to feel the opposite bed. He was surprised
to find the young girl sitting up, holding in her breath, awake and on
the watch.

"Well! why don't you reply? What are you doing, then?"

At last she said:

"I'm getting up."

"Getting up at this hour?"

"Yes, I'm going back to work at the pit."

Étienne felt deeply moved, and sat down on the edge of the palliasse,
while Catherine explained her reasons to him. She suffered too much by
living thus in idleness, feeling continual looks of reproach weighing
on her; she would rather run the risk of being knocked about down there
by Chaval. And if her mother refused to take her money when she brought
it, well! she was big enough to act for herself and make her own soup.

"Go away; I want to dress. And don't say anything, will you, if you
want to be kind?"

But he remained near her; he had put his arms round her waist in a
caress of grief and pity. Pressed one against the other in their
shirts, they could feel the warmth of each other's naked flesh, at
the edge of this bed, still moist with the night's sleep. She had at
first tried to free herself; then she began to cry quietly, in her
turn taking him by the neck to press him against her in a despairing
clasp. And they remained, without any further desires, with the past of
their unfortunate love, which they had not been able to satisfy. Was
it, then, done with for ever? Would they never dare to love each other
some day, now that they were free? It only needed a little happiness
to dissipate their shame--that awkwardness which prevented them from
coming together because of all sorts of ideas which they themselves
could not read clearly.

"Go to bed again," she whispered. "I don't want to light up, it would
wake mother. It is time; leave me."

He could not hear; he was pressing her wildly, with a heart drowned
in immense sadness. The need for peace, an irresistible need for
happiness, was carrying him away; and he saw himself married, in a neat
little house, with no other ambition than to live and to die there,
both of them together. He would be satisfied with bread; and if there
were only enough for one, she should have it. What was the good of
anything else? Was there anything in life worth more?

But she was unfolding her naked arms.

"Please, leave me."

Then, in a sudden impulse, he said in her ear:

"Wait, I'm coming with you."

And he was himself surprised at what he had said. He had sworn never
to go down again; whence then came this sudden decision, arising from
his lips without thought of his, without even a moment's discussion?
There was now such calm within him, so complete a cure of his doubts,
that he persisted like a man saved by chance, who has at last found the
only harbour from his torment. So he refused to listen to her when she
became alarmed, understanding that he was devoting himself for her and
fearing the ill words which would greet him at the pit. He laughed at
everything; the placards promised pardon and that was enough.

"I want to work; that's my idea. Let us dress and make no noise."

They dressed themselves in the darkness, with a thousand precautions.
She had secretly prepared her miner's clothes the evening before; he
took a jacket and breeches from the cupboard; and they did not wash
themselves for fear of knocking the bowl. All were asleep, but they had
to cross the narrow passage where the mother slept. When they started,
as ill luck would have it, they stumbled against a chair. She woke and
asked drowsily:

"Eh! what is it?"

Catherine had stopped, trembling, and violently pressing Étienne's hand.

"It's me; don't trouble yourself," he said. "I feel stifled and am
going outside to breathe a bit."

"Very well."

And Maheude fell asleep again. Catherine dared not stir. At last she
went down into the parlour and divided a slice of bread-and-butter
which she had reserved from a loaf given by a Montsou lady. Then they
softly closed the door and went away.

Souvarine had remained standing near the Avantage, at the corner of the
road. For half an hour he had been looking at the colliers who were
returning to work in the darkness, passing by with the dull tramp of
a herd. He was counting them, as a butcher counts his beasts at the
entrance to the slaughter-house, and he was surprised at their number;
even his pessimism had not foreseen that the number of cowards would
have been so great. The stream continued to pass by, and he grew stiff,
very cold, with clenched teeth and bright eyes.

But he started. Among the men passing by, whose faces he could not
distinguish, he had just recognized one by his walk. He came forward
and stopped him.

"Where are you going to?"

Étienne, in surprise, instead of replying, stammered:

"What! you've not set out yet!"

Then he confessed he was going back to the pit. No doubt he had sworn;
only it could not be called life to wait with folded arms for things
which would perhaps happen in a hundred years; and, besides, reasons of
his own had decided him.

Souvarine had listened to him, shuddering. He seized him by the
shoulder, and pushed him towards the settlement.

"Go home again; I want you to. Do you understand?"

But Catherine having approached, he recognized her also. Étienne
protested, declaring that he allowed no one to judge his conduct. And
the engine-man's eyes went from the young girl to her companion, while
he stepped back with a sudden, relinquishing movement. When there was a
woman in a man's heart, that man was done for; he might die. Perhaps he
saw again in a rapid vision his mistress hanging over there at Moscow,
that last link cut from his flesh, which had rendered him free of the
lives of others and of his own life. He said simply:

"Go."

Étienne, feeling awkward, was delaying, and trying to find some
friendly word, so as not to separate in this manner.

"Then you're still going?"

"Yes."

"Well, give me your hand, old chap. A pleasant journey, and no ill
feeling."

The other stretched out an icy hand. Neither friend nor wife.

"Good-bye for good this time."

"Yes, good-bye."

And Souvarine, standing motionless in the darkness, watched Étienne and
Catherine entering the Voreux.



CHAPTER III


At four o'clock the descent began. Dansaert, who was personally
installed at the marker's office in the lamp cabin, wrote down the name
of each worker who presented himself and had a lamp given to him. He
took them all, without remark, keeping to the promise of the placards.
When, however, he noticed Étienne and Catherine at the wicket, he
started and became very red, and was opening his mouth to refuse their
names; then, he contented himself with the triumph, and a jeer. Ah! ah!
so the strong man was thrown? The Company was, then, in luck since the
terrible Montsou wrestler had come back to it to ask for bread? Étienne
silently took his lamp and went towards the shaft with the putter.

But it was there, in the receiving-room, that Catherine feared the
mates' bad words. At the very entrance she recognized Chaval, in the
midst of some twenty miners, waiting till a cage was free. He came
furiously towards her, but the sight of Étienne stopped him. Then he
affected to sneer with an offensive shrug of the shoulders.

Very good! he didn't care a hang, since the other had come to occupy
the place that was still warm; good riddance! It only concerned the
gentleman if he liked the leavings; and beneath the exhibition of this
contempt he was again seized by a tremor of jealousy, and his eyes
flamed. For the rest, the mates did not stir, standing silent, with
eyes lowered. They contented themselves with casting a sidelong look
at the new-comers; then, dejected and without anger, they again stared
fixedly at the mouth of the shaft, with their lamps in their hands,
shivering beneath their thin jackets, in the constant draughts of this
large room. At last the cage was wedged on to the keeps, and they were
ordered to get in. Catherine and Étienne were squeezed in one tram,
already containing Pierron and two pikemen. Beside them, in the other
tram, Chaval was loudly saying to Father Mouque that the directors had
made a mistake in not taking advantage of the opportunity to free the
pits of the blackguards who were corrupting them; but the old groom,
who had already fallen back into the dog-like resignation of his
existence, no longer grew angry over the death of his children, and
simply replied by a gesture of conciliation.

The cage freed itself and slipped down into the darkness. No one spoke.
Suddenly, when they were in the middle third of the descent, there was
a terrible jarring. The iron creaked, and the men were thrown on to
each other.

"By God!" growled Étienne, "are they going to flatten us? We shall end
by being left here for good, with their confounded tubbing. And they
talk about having repaired it!"

The cage had, however, cleared the obstacle. It was now descending
beneath so violent a rain, like a storm, that the workmen anxiously
listened to the pouring. A number of leaks must then have appeared in
the caulking of the joints.

Pierron, who had been working for several days, when asked about it did
not like to show his fear, which might be considered as an attack on
the management, so he only replied:

"Oh, no danger! it's always like that. No doubt they've not had time to
caulk the leaks."

The torrent was roaring over their heads, and they at last reached the
pit-eye beneath a veritable waterspout. Not one of the captains had
thought of climbing up the ladders to investigate the matter. The pump
would be enough, the carpenters would examine the joints the following
night. The reorganization of work in the galleries gave considerable
trouble. Before allowing the pikemen to return to their hewing cells,
the engineer had decided that for the first five days all the men
should execute certain works of consolidation which were extremely
urgent. Landslips were threatening everywhere; the passages had
suffered to such an extent that the timbering had to be repaired along
a length of several hundred metres. Gangs of ten men were therefore
formed below, each beneath the control of a captain. Then they were set
to work at the most damaged spots. When the descent was complete, it
was found that three hundred and twenty-two miners had gone down, about
half of those who worked there when the pit was in full swing.

Chaval belonged to the same gang as Catherine and Étienne. This was
not by chance; he had at first hidden behind his mates, and had then
forced the captain's hand. This gang went to the end of the north
gallery, nearly three kilometres away, to clear out a landslip which
was stopping up a gallery in the Dix-Huit-Pouces seam. They attacked
the fallen rocks with shovel and pick. Étienne, Chaval, and five others
cleared away the rubbish while Catherine, with two trammers, wheeled
the earth up to the upbrow. They seldom spoke, and the captain never
left them. The putter's two lovers, however, were on the point of
coming to blows. While growling that he had had enough of this trollop,
Chaval was still thinking of her, and slyly hustling her about, so that
Étienne had threatened to settle him if he did not leave her alone.
They eyed each other fiercely, and had to be separated.

Towards eight o'clock Dansaert passed to give a glance at the work. He
appeared to be in a very bad humour, and was furious with the captain;
nothing had gone well, what was the meaning of such work, the planking
would everywhere have to be done over again! And he went away declaring
that he would come back with the engineer. He had been waiting for
Négrel since morning, and could not understand the cause of this delay.

Another hour passed by. The captain had stopped the removal of the
rubbish to employ all his people in supporting the roof. Even the
putter and the two trammers left off wheeling to prepare and bring
pieces of timber. At this end of the gallery the gang formed a sort
of advance guard at the very extremity of the mine, now without
communication with the other stalls. Three or four times strange
noises, distant rushes, made the workers turn their heads to listen.
What was it, then? One would have said that the passages were being
emptied and the mates already returning at a running pace. But the
sound was lost in the deep silence, and they set to wedging their wood
again, dazed by the loud blows of the hammer. At last they returned to
the rubbish, and the wheeling began once more. Catherine came back from
her first journey in terror, saying that no one was to be found at the
upbrow.

"I called, but there was no reply. They've all cleared out of the
place."

The bewilderment was so great that the ten men threw down their tools
to rush away. The idea that they were abandoned, left alone at the
bottom of the mine, so far from the pit-eye, drove them wild. They only
kept their lamps and ran in single file--the men, the boys, the putter;
the captain himself lost his head and shouted out appeals, more and
more frightened at the silence in this endless desert of galleries.
What then had happened that they did not meet a soul? What accident
could thus have driven away their mates? Their terror was increased
by the uncertainty of the danger, this threat which they felt there
without knowing what it was.

When they at last came near the pit-eye, a torrent barred their road.
They were at once in water to the knees, and were no longer able to
run, laboriously fording the flood with the thought that one minute's
delay might mean death.

"By God! it's the tubbing that's given way," cried Étienne. "I said we
should be left here for good."

Since the descent Pierron had anxiously observed the increase of the
deluge which fell from the shaft. As with two others he loaded the
trams he raised his head, his face covered with large drops, and his
ears ringing with the roar of the tempest above. But he trembled
especially when he noticed that the sump beneath him, that pit ten
metres deep, was filling; the water was already spurting through the
floor and covering the metal plates. This showed that the pump was
no longer sufficient to fight against the leaks. He heard it panting
with the groan of fatigue. Then he warned Dansaert, who swore angrily,
replying that they must wait for the engineer. Twice he returned to the
charge without extracting anything else but exasperated shrugs of the
shoulder. Well! the water was rising; what could he do?

Mouque appeared with Bataille, whom he was leading to work, and he had
to hold him with both hands, for the sleepy old horse had suddenly
reared up, and, with a shrill neigh, was stretching his head towards
the shaft.

"Well, philosopher, what troubles you? Ah! it's because it rains. Come
along, that doesn't concern you."

But the beast quivered all over his skin, and Mouque forcibly drew him
to the haulage gallery.

Almost at the same moment as Mouque and Bataille were disappearing at
the end of a gallery, there was a crackling in the air, followed by
the prolonged noise of a fall. It was a piece of tubbing which had got
loose and was falling a hundred and eighty metres down, rebounding
against the walls. Pierron and the other porters were able to get
out of the way, and the oak plank only smashed an empty tram. At
the same time, a mass of water, the leaping flood of a broken dyke,
rushed down. Dansaert proposed to go up and examine; but, while he was
still speaking, another piece rolled down. And in terror before the
threatening catastrophe, he no longer hesitated, but gave the order to
go up, sending captains to warn the men in their stalls.

Then a terrible hustling began. From every gallery rows of workers
came rushing up, trying to take the cages by assault. They crushed
madly against each other in order to be taken up at once. Some who had
thought of trying the ladder passage came down again shouting that it
was already stopped up. That was the terror they all felt each time
that the cage rose; this time it was able to pass, but who knew if it
would be able to pass again in the midst of the obstacles obstructing
the shaft? The downfall must be continuing above, for a series of low
detonations was heard, the planks were splitting and bursting amid
the continuous and increasing roar of a storm. One cage soon became
useless, broken in and no longer sliding between the guides, which
were doubtless broken. The other jarred to such a degree that the
cable would certainly break soon. And there remained a hundred men
to be taken up, all panting, clinging to one another, bleeding and
half-drowned. Two were killed by falls of planking. A third, who had
seized the cage, fell back fifty metres up and disappeared in the sump.

Dansaert, however, was trying to arrange matters in an orderly manner.
Armed with a pick he threatened to open the skull of the first man who
refused to obey; and he tried to arrange them in file, shouting that
the porters were to go up last after having sent up their mates. He was
not listened to, and he had to prevent the pale and cowardly Pierron
from entering among the first. At each departure he pushed him aside
with a blow. But his own teeth were chattering, a minute more and he
would be swallowed up; everything was smashing up there, a flood had
broken loose, a murderous rain of scaffolding. A few men were still
running up when, mad with fear, he jumped into a tram, allowing Pierron
to jump in behind him. The cage rose.

At this moment the gang to which Étienne and Chaval belonged had just
reached the pit-eye. They saw the cage disappear and rushed forward,
but they had to draw back from the final downfall of the tubbing; the
shaft was stopped up and the cage would not come down again. Catherine
was sobbing, and Chaval was choked with shouting oaths. There were
twenty of them; were those bloody bosses going to abandon them thus?
Father Mouque, who had brought back Bataille without hurrying, was
still holding him by the bridle, both of them stupefied, the man and
the beast, in the face of this rapid flow of the inundation. The water
was already rising to their thighs. Étienne in silence, with clenched
teeth, supported Catherine between his arms. And the twenty yelled with
their faces turned up, obstinately gazing at the shaft like imbeciles,
that shifting hole which was belching out a flood and from which no
help could henceforth come to them.

At the surface, Dansaert, on arriving, perceived Négrel running up. By
some fatality, Madame Hennebeau had that morning delayed him on rising,
turning over the leaves of catalogues for the purchase of wedding
presents. It was ten o'clock.

"Well! what's happening, then?" he shouted from afar.

"The pit is ruined," replied the head captain.

And he described the catastrophe in a few stammered words, while the
engineer incredulously shrugged his shoulders. What! could tubbing
be demolished like that? They were exaggerating; he would make an
examination.

"I suppose no one has been left at the bottom?"

Dansaert was confused. No, no one; at least, so he hoped. But some of
the men might have been delayed.

"But," said Négrel, "what in the name of creation have you come up for,
then? You can't leave your men!"

He immediately gave orders to count the lamps. In the morning three
hundred and twenty-two had been distributed, and now only two hundred
and fifty-five could be found; but several men acknowledged that in
the hustling and panic they had dropped theirs and left them behind.
An attempt was made to call over the men, but it was impossible to
establish the exact number. Some of the miners had gone away, others
did not hear their names. No one was agreed as to the number of the
missing mates. It might be twenty, perhaps forty. And the engineer
could only make out one thing with certainty: there were men down
below, for their yells could be distinguished through the sound of the
water and the fallen scaffolding, on leaning over the mouth of the
shaft.

Négrel's first care was to send for M. Hennebeau, and to try to close
the pit; but it was already too late. The colliers who had rushed to
the Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement, as though pursued by the cracking
tubbing, had frightened the families; and bands of women, old men, and
little ones came running up, shaken by cries and sobs. They had to be
pushed back, and a line of overseers was formed to keep them off, for
they would have interfered with the operations. Many of the men who
had come up from the shaft remained there stupidly without thinking
of changing their clothes, riveted by fear before this terrible hole
in which they had nearly remained for ever. The women, rushing wildly
around them, implored them for names. Was So-and-so among them? and
that one? and this one? They did not know, they stammered; they
shuddered terribly, and made gestures like madmen, gestures which
seemed to be pushing away some abominable vision which was always
present to them. The crowd rapidly increased, and lamentations arose
from the roads. And up there on the pit-bank, in Bonnemort's cabin, on
the ground was seated a man, Souvarine, who had not gone away, who was
looking on.

"The names! the names!" cried the women, with voices choked by tears.

Négrel appeared for a moment, and said hurriedly:

"As soon as we know the names they shall be given out, but nothing is
lost so far: every one will be saved. I am going down."

Then, silent with anguish, the crowd waited. The engineer, in fact,
with quiet courage was preparing to go down. He had had the cage
unfastened, giving orders to replace it at the end of the cable by a
tub; and as he feared that the water would extinguish his lamp, he had
another fastened beneath the tub, which would protect it.

Several captains, trembling and with white, disturbed faces, assisted
in these preparations.

"You will come with me, Dansaert," said Négrel, abruptly.

Then, when he saw them all without courage, and that the head captain
was tottering, giddy with terror, he pushed him aside with a movement
of contempt.

"No, you will be in my way. I would rather go alone."

He was already in the narrow bucket, which swayed at the end of the
cable; and holding his lamp in one hand and the signal-cord in the
other, he shouted to the engine-man:

"Gently!"

The engine set the drums in movement, and Négrel disappeared in the
gulf, from which the yells of the wretches below still arose.

At the upper part nothing had moved. He found that the tubbing here
was in good condition. Balanced in the middle of the shaft he lighted
up the walls as he turned round; the leaks between the joints were
so slight that his lamp did not suffer. But at three hundred metres,
when he reached the lower tubbing, the lamp was extinguished, as he
expected, for a jet had filled the tub. After that he was only able
to see by the hanging lamp which preceded him in the darkness, and,
in spite of his courage, he shuddered and turned pale in the face of
the horror of the disaster. A few pieces of timber alone remained;
the others had fallen in with their frames. Behind, enormous cavities
had been hollowed out, and the yellow sand, as fine as flour, was
flowing in considerable masses; while the waters of the Torrent,
that subterranean sea with its unknown tempests and shipwrecks, were
discharging in a flow like a weir. He went down lower, lost in the
midst of these chasms which continued to multiply, beaten and turned
round by the waterspout of the springs, so badly lighted by the red
star of the lamp moving on below, that he seemed to distinguish the
roads and squares of some destroyed town far away in the play of the
great moving shadows. No human work was any longer possible. His only
remaining hope was to attempt to save the men in peril. As he sank down
he heard the cries becoming louder, and he was obliged to stop; an
impassable obstacle barred the shaft--a mass of scaffolding, the broken
joists of the guides, the split brattices entangled with the metal-work
torn from the pump. As he looked on for a long time with aching heart,
the yelling suddenly ceased. No doubt, the rapid rise of the water had
forced the wretches to flee into the galleries, if, indeed, the flood
had not already filled their mouths.

Négrel resigned himself to pulling the signal-cord as a sign to
draw up. Then he had himself stopped again. He could not conceive
the cause of this sudden accident. He wished to investigate it, and
examined those pieces of the tubbing which were still in place. At a
distance the tears and cuts in the wood had surprised him. His lamp,
drowned in dampness, was going out, and, touching with his fingers, he
clearly recognized the marks of the saw and of the wimble--the whole
abominable labour of destruction. Evidently this catastrophe had been
intentionally produced. He was stupefied, and the pieces of timber,
cracking and falling down with their frames in a last slide, nearly
carried him with them. His courage fled. The thought of the man who had
done that made his hair stand on end, and froze him with a supernatural
fear of evil, as though, mixed with the darkness, the men were still
there paying for his immeasurable crime. He shouted and shook the cord
furiously; and it was, indeed, time, for he perceived that the upper
tubbing, a hundred metres higher, was in its turn beginning to move.
The joints were opening, losing their oakum caulking, and streams were
rushing through. It was now only a question of hours before the tubbing
would all fall down.

At the surface M. Hennebeau was anxiously waiting for Négrel.

"Well, what?" he asked.

But the engineer was choked, and could not speak; he felt faint.

"It is not possible; such a thing was never seen. Have you examined?"

He nodded with a cautious look. He refused to talk in the presence of
some captains who were listening, and led his uncle ten metres away,
and not thinking this far enough, drew still farther back; then, in a
low whisper, he at last told of the outrage, the torn and sawn planks,
the pit bleeding at the neck and groaning. Turning pale, the manager
also lowered his voice, with that instinctive need of silence in face
of the monstrosity of great orgies and great crimes. It was useless to
look as though they were trembling before the ten thousand Montsou men;
later on they would see. And they both continued whispering, overcome
at the thought that a man had had the courage to go down, to hang in
the midst of space, to risk his life twenty times over in his terrible
task. They could not even understand this mad courage in destruction;
they refused to believe, in spite of the evidence, just as we doubt
those stories of celebrated escapes of prisoners who fly through
windows thirty metres above the ground.

When M. Hennebeau came back to the captains a nervous spasm was drawing
his face. He made a gesture of despair, and gave orders that the mine
should be evacuated at once. It was a kind of funeral procession, in
silent abandonment, with glances thrown back at those great masses of
bricks, empty and still standing, but which nothing henceforth could
save.

And as the manager and the engineer came down last from the
receiving-room, the crowd met them with its clamour, repeating
obstinately:

"The names! the names! Tell us the names!"

Maheude was now there, among the women. She recollected the noise in
the night; her daughter and the lodger must have gone away together,
and they were certainly down at the bottom. And after having cried that
it was a good thing, that they deserved to stay there, the heartless
cowards, she had run up, and was standing in the first row, trembling
with anguish. Besides, she no longer dared to doubt; the discussion
going on around her informed her as to the names of those who were
down. Yes, yes, Catherine was among them, Étienne also--a mate had seen
them. But there was not always agreement with regard to the others.
No, not this one; on the contrary, that one, perhaps Chaval, with
whom, however, a trammer declared that he had ascended. The Levaque
and Pierronne, although none of their people were in danger, cried out
and lamented as loudly as the others. Zacharie, who had come up among
the first, in spite of his inclination to make fun of everything had
weepingly kissed his wife and mother, and remained near the latter,
quivering, and showing an unexpected degree of affection for his
sister, refusing to believe that she was below so long as the bosses
made no authoritative statement.

"The names! the names! For pity's sake, the names!"

Négrel, who was exhausted, shouted to the overseers:

"Can't you make them be still? It's enough to kill one with vexation!
We don't know the names!"

Two hours passed away in this manner. In the first terror no one had
thought of the other shaft at the old Réquillart mine, M. Hennebeau was
about to announce that the rescue would be attempted from that side,
when a rumour ran round: five men had just escaped the inundation by
climbing up the rotten ladders of the old unused passage, and Father
Mouque was named. This caused surprise, for no one knew he was below.
But the narrative of the five who had escaped increased the weeping;
fifteen mates had not been able to follow them, having gone astray, and
been walled up by falls. And it was no longer possible to assist them,
for there were already ten metres of water in Réquillart. All the names
were known, and the air was filled with the groans of a slaughtered
multitude.

"Will you make them be still?" Négrel repeated furiously. "Make them
draw back! Yes, yes, to a hundred metres! There is danger; push them
back, push them back!"

It was necessary to struggle against these poor people. They were
imagining all sorts of misfortunes, and they had to be driven away so
that the deaths might be concealed; the captains explained to them that
the shaft would destroy the whole mine. This idea rendered them mute
with terror, and they at last allowed themselves to be driven back step
by step; the guards, however, who kept them back had to be doubled, for
they were fascinated by the spot and continually returned. Thousands of
people were hustling each other along the road; they were running up
from all the settlements, and even from Montsou. And the man above, on
the pit-bank, the fair man with the girlish face, smoked cigarettes to
occupy himself, keeping his clear eyes fixed on the pit.

Then the wait began. It was midday; no one had eaten, but no one moved
away. In the misty sky, of a dirty grey colour, rusty clouds were
slowly passing by. A big dog, behind Rasseneur's hedge, was barking
furiously without cessation, irritated by the living breath of the
crowd. And the crowd had gradually spread over the neighbouring ground,
forming a circle at a hundred metres round the pit. The Voreux arose in
the centre of the great space. There was not a soul there, not a sound;
it was a desert. The windows and the doors, left open, showed the
abandonment within; a forgotten ginger cat, divining the peril in this
solitude, jumped from a staircase and disappeared. No doubt the stoves
of the boilers were scarcely extinguished, for the tall brick chimney
gave out a light smoke beneath the dark clouds; while the weathercock
on the steeple creaked in the wind with a short, shrill cry, the only
melancholy voice of these vast buildings which were about to die.

At two o'clock nothing had moved, M. Hennebeau, Négrel, and other
engineers who had hastened up, formed a group in black coats and hats
standing in front of the crowd; and they, too, did not move away,
though their legs were aching with fatigue, and they were feverish and
ill at their impotence in the face of such a disaster, only whispering
occasional words as though at a dying person's bedside. The upper
tubbing must nearly all have fallen in, for sudden echoing sounds could
be heard as of deep broken falls, succeeded by silence. The wound was
constantly enlarging; the landslip which had begun below was rising
and approaching the surface. Négrel was seized by nervous impatience;
he wanted to see, and he was already advancing alone into this awful
void when he was seized by the shoulders. What was the good? he could
prevent nothing. An old miner, however, circumventing the overseers,
rushed into the shed; but he quietly reappeared, he had gone for his
sabots.

Three o'clock struck. Still nothing. A falling shower had soaked the
crowd, but they had not withdrawn a step. Rasseneur's dog had begun
to bark again. And it was at twenty minutes past three only that the
first shock was felt. The Voreux trembled, but continued solid and
upright. Then a second shock followed immediately, and a long cry came
from open mouths; the tarred screening-shed, after having tottered
twice, had fallen down with a terrible crash. Beneath the enormous
pressure the structures broke and jarred each other so powerfully that
sparks leapt out. From this moment the earth continued to tremble, the
shocks succeeded one another, subterranean downfalls, the rumbling of a
volcano in eruption. Afar the dog was no longer barking, but he howled
plaintively as though announcing the oscillations which he felt coming;
and the women, the children, all these people who were looking on,
could not keep back a clamour of distress at each of these blows which
shook them. In less than ten minutes the slate roof of the steeple fell
in, the receiving-room and the engine-rooms were split open, leaving a
considerable breach. Then the sounds ceased, the downfall stopped, and
there was again deep silence.

For an hour the Voreux remained thus, broken into, as though bombarded
by an army of barbarians. There was no more crying out; the enlarged
circle of spectators merely looked on. Beneath the piled-up beams of
the sifting-shed, fractured tipping cradles could be made out with
broken and twisted hoppers. But the rubbish had especially accumulated
at the receiving-room, where there had been a rain of bricks, and large
portions of wall and masses of plaster had fallen in. The iron scaffold
which bore the pulleys had bent, half-buried in the pit; a cage was
still suspended, a torn cable-end was hanging; then there was a hash
of trams, metal plates, and ladders. By some chance the lamp cabin
remained standing, exhibiting on the left its bright rows of little
lamps. And at the end of its disembowelled chamber, the engine could be
seen seated squarely on its massive foundation of masonry; its copper
was shining and its huge steel limbs seemed to possess indestructible
muscles. The enormous crank, bent in the air, looked like the powerful
knee of some giant quietly reposing in his strength.

After this hour of respite, M. Hennebeau's hopes began to rise. The
movement of the soil must have come to an end, and there would be
some chance of saving the engine and the remainder of the buildings.
But he would not yet allow any one to approach, considering another
half-hour's patience desirable. This waiting became unbearable; the
hope increased the anguish and all hearts were beating quickly. A dark
cloud, growing large at the horizon, hastened the twilight, a sinister
dayfall over this wreck of earth's tempests. Since seven o'clock they
had been there without moving or eating.

And suddenly, as the engineers were cautiously advancing, a supreme
convulsion of the soil put them to flight. Subterranean detonations
broke out; a whole monstrous artillery was cannonading in the gulf. At
the surface, the last buildings were tipped over and crushed. At first
a sort of whirlpool carried away the rubbish from the sifting-shed and
the receiving-room. Next, the boiler building burst and disappeared.
Then it was the low square tower, where the pumping-engine was
groaning, which fell on its face like a man mown down by a bullet.
And then a terrible thing was seen; the engine, dislocated from its
massive foundation, with broken limbs was struggling against death; it
moved, it straightened its crank, its giant's knee, as though to rise;
but, crushed and swallowed up, it was dying. The chimney alone, thirty
metres high, still remained standing, though shaken, like a mast in the
tempest. It was thought that it would be crushed to fragments and fly
to powder, when suddenly it sank in one block, drunk down by the earth,
melted like a colossal candle; and nothing was left, not even the point
of the lightning conductor. It was done for; the evil beast crouching
in this hole, gorged with human flesh, was no longer breathing with its
thick, long respiration. The Voreux had been swallowed whole by the
abyss.

The crowd rushed away yelling. The women hid their eyes as they ran.
Terror drove the men along like a pile of dry leaves. They wished not
to shout and they shouted, with swollen breasts, and arms in the air,
before the immense hole which had been hollowed out. This crater, as
of an extinct volcano, fifteen metres deep, extended from the road
to the canal for a space of at least forty metres. The whole square
of the mine had followed the buildings, the gigantic platforms, the
foot-bridges with their rails, a complete train of trams, three wagons;
without counting the wood supply, a forest of cut timber, gulped
down like straw. At the bottom it was only possible to distinguish a
confused mass of beams, bricks, iron, plaster, frightful remains, piled
up, entangled, soiled in the fury of the catastrophe. And the hole
became larger, cracks started from the edges, reaching afar, across the
fields. A fissure ascended as far as Rasseneur's bar, and his front
wall had cracked. Would the settlement itself pass into it? How far
ought they to flee to reach shelter at the end of this abominable day,
beneath this leaden cloud which also seemed about to crush the earth?

A cry of pain escaped Négrel. M. Hennebeau, who had drawn back, was
in tears. The disaster was not complete; one bank of the canal gave
way, and the canal emptied itself like one bubbling sheet through one
of the cracks. It disappeared there, falling like a cataract down a
deep valley. The mine drank down this river; the galleries would now
be submerged for years. Soon the crater was filled and a lake of muddy
water occupied the place where once stood the Voreux, like one of
those lakes beneath which sleep accursed towns. There was a terrified
silence, and nothing now could be heard but the fall of this water
rumbling in the bowels of the earth.

Then on the shaken pit-bank Souvarine rose up. He had recognized
Maheude and Zacharie sobbing before this downfall, the weight of which
was so heavy on the heads of the wretches who were in agony beneath.
And he threw down his last cigarette; he went away, without looking
back, into the now dark night. Afar his shadow diminished and mingled
with the darkness. He was going over there, to the unknown. He was
going tranquilly to extermination, wherever there might be dynamite
to blow up towns and men. He will be there, without doubt, when the
middle class in agony shall hear the pavement of the streets bursting
up beneath their feet.



CHAPTER IV


On the night that followed the collapse of the Voreux M. Hennebeau
started for Paris, wishing to inform the directors in person before the
newspapers published the news. And when he returned on the following
day he appeared to be quite calm, with his usual correct administrative
air. He had evidently freed himself from responsibility; he did not
appear to have decreased in favour. On the contrary, the decree
appointing him officer of the Legion of Honour was signed twenty-four
hours afterwards.

But if the manager remained safe, the Company was tottering beneath the
terrible blow. It was not the few million francs that had been lost,
it was the wound in the flank, the deep incessant fear of the morrow
in face of this massacre of one of their mines. The Company was so
impressed that once more it felt the need of silence. What was the good
of stirring up this abomination? If the villain were discovered, why
make a martyr of him in order that his awful heroism might turn other
heads, and give birth to a long line of incendiaries and murderers?
Besides, the real culprit was not suspected. The Company came to think
that there was an army of accomplices, not being able to believe that
a single man could have had courage and strength for such a task; and
it was precisely this thought which weighed on them, this thought of
an ever-increasing threat to the existence of their mines. The manager
had received orders to organize a vast system of espionage, and then
to dismiss quietly, one by one, the dangerous men who were suspected
of having had a hand in the crime. They contented themselves with this
method of purification--a prudent and politic method.

There was only one immediate dismissal, that of Dansaert, the head
captain. Ever since the scandal at Pierronne's house he had become
impossible. A pretext was made of his attitude in danger, the cowardice
of a captain abandoning his men. This was also a prudent sop thrown to
the miners, who hated him.

Among the public, however, many rumours had circulated, and the
directors had to send a letter of correction to one newspaper,
contradicting a story in which mention was made of a barrel of powder
lighted by the strikers. After a rapid inquiry the Government inspector
had concluded that there had been a natural rupture of the tubbing,
occasioned by the piling up of the soil; and the Company had preferred
to be silent, and to accept the blame of a lack of superintendence. In
the Paris press, after the third day, the catastrophe had served to
increase the stock of general news; nothing was talked of but the men
perishing at the bottom of the mine, and the telegrams published every
morning were eagerly read. At Montsou people grew pale and speechless
at the very name of the Voreux, and a legend had formed which made the
boldest tremble as they whispered it. The whole country showed great
pity for the victims; visits were organized to the destroyed pit, and
whole families hastened up to shudder at the ruins which lay so heavily
over the heads of the buried wretches.

Deneulin, who had been appointed divisional engineer, came into the
midst of the disaster on beginning his duties; and his first care was
to turn the canal back into its bed, for this torrent increased the
damage every hour. Extensive works were necessary, and he at once
set a hundred men to construct a dyke. Twice over the impetuosity of
the stream carried away the first dams. Now pumps were set up and a
furious struggle was going on; step by step the vanished soil was being
violently reconquered.

But the rescue of the engulfed miners was a still more absorbing work.
Négrel was appointed to attempt a supreme effort, and arms were not
lacking to help him; all the colliers rushed to offer themselves in an
outburst of brotherhood. They forgot the strike, they did not trouble
themselves at all about payment; they might get nothing, they only
asked to risk their lives as soon as there were mates in danger of
death. They were all there with their tools, quivering as they waited
to know where they ought to strike. Many of them, sick with fright
after the accident, shaken by nervous tremors, soaked in cold sweats,
and the prey of continual nightmares, got up in spite of everything,
and were as eager as any in their desire to fight against the earth, as
though they had a revenge to take on it. Unfortunately, the difficulty
began when the question arose, What could be done? how could they go
down? from what side could they attack the rocks?

Négrel's opinion was that not one of the unfortunate people was alive;
the fifteen had surely perished, drowned or suffocated. But in these
mine catastrophes the rule is always to assume that buried men are
alive, and he acted on this supposition. The first problem which he
proposed to himself was to decide where they could have taken refuge.
The captains and old miners whom he consulted were agreed on one
point: in the face of the rising water the men had certainly come up
from gallery to gallery to the highest cuttings, so that they were,
without doubt, driven to the end of some upper passages. This agreed
with Father Mouque's information, and his confused narrative even
gave reason to suppose that in the wild flight the band had separated
into smaller groups, leaving fugitives on the road at every level.
But the captains were not unanimous when the discussion of possible
attempts at rescue arose. As the passages nearest to the surface were
a hundred and fifty metres down, there could be no question of sinking
a shaft. Réquillart remained the one means of access, the only point
by which they could approach. The worst was that the old pit, now
also inundated, no longer communicated with the Voreux; and above
the level of the water only a few ends of galleries belonging to the
first level were left free. The pumping process would require years,
and the best plan would be to visit these galleries and ascertain if
any of them approached the submerged passages at the end of which the
distressed miners were suspected to be. Before logically arriving at
this point, much discussion had been necessary to dispose of a crowd of
impracticable plans.

Négrel now began to stir up the dust of the archives; he discovered
the old plans of the two pits, studied them, and decided on the points
at which their investigations ought to be carried on. Gradually this
hunt excited him; he was, in his turn, seized by a fever of devotion,
in spite of his ironical indifference to men and things. The first
difficulty was in going down at Réquillart; it was necessary to clear
out the rubbish from the mouth of the shaft, to cut down the mountain
ash, and raze the sloes and the hawthorns; they had also to repair
the ladders. Then they began to feel around. The engineer, having
gone down with ten workmen, made them strike the iron of their tools
against certain parts of the seam which he pointed out to them; and in
deep silence they each placed an ear to the coal, listening for any
distant blows to reply. But they went in vain through every practicable
gallery; no echo returned to them. Their embarrassment increased. At
what spot should they cut into the bed? Towards whom should they go,
since no once appeared to be there? They persisted in seeking, however,
notwithstanding the exhaustion produced by their growing anxiety.

On the first day, Maheude came in the morning to Réquillart. She sat
down on a beam in front of the shaft, and did not stir from it till
evening. When a man came up, she rose and questioned him with her eyes:
Nothing? No, nothing! And she sat down again, and waited still, without
a word, with hard, fixed face. Jeanlin also, seeing that his den was
invaded, prowled around with the frightened air of a beast of prey
whose burrow will betray his booty. He thought of the little soldier
lying beneath the rocks, fearing lest they should trouble his sound
sleep; but that side of the mine was beneath the water, and, besides,
their investigations were directed more to the left, in the west
gallery. At first, Philoméne had also come, accompanying Zacharie, who
was one of the gang; then she became wearied at catching cold, without
need or result, and went back to the settlement, dragging through her
days, a limp, indifferent woman, occupied from morning to night in
coughing. Zacharie on the contrary, lived for nothing else; he would
have devoured the soil to get back his sister. At night he shouted out
that he saw, her, he heard her, very lean from hunger, her chest sore
with calling for help. Twice he had tried to dig without orders, saying
that it was there, that he was sure of it. The engineer would not let
him go down any more, and he would not go away from the pit, from which
he was driven off; he could not even sit down and wait near his mother,
he was so deeply stirred by the need to act, which drove him constantly
on.

It was the third day. Négrel, in despair, had resolved to abandon the
attempt in the evening. At midday, after lunch, when he came back with
his men to make one last effort, he was surprised to see Zacharie, red
and gesticulating, come out of the mine shouting:

"She's there! She's replied to me! Come along, quickly!"

He had slid down the ladders, in spite of the watchman, and was
declaring that he had heard hammering over there, in the first passage
of the Guillaume seam.

"But we have already been twice in that direction," Négrel observed,
sceptically. "Anyhow, we'll go and see."

Maheude had risen, and had to be prevented from going down. She waited,
standing at the edge of the shaft, gazing down into the darkness of the
hole.

Négrel, down below, himself struck three blows, at long intervals. He
then applied his ear to the coal, cautioning the workers to be very
silent. Not a sound reached him, and he shook his head; evidently
the poor lad was dreaming. In a fury, Zacharie struck in his turn,
and listened anew with bright eyes, and limbs trembling with joy.
Then the other workmen tried the experiment, one after the other,
and all grew animated, hearing the distant reply quite clearly. The
engineer was astonished; he again applied his ear, and was at last
able to catch a sound of aerial softness, a rhythmical roll scarcely
to be distinguished, the well-known cadence beaten by the miners
when they are fighting against the coal in the midst of danger. The
coal transmits the sound with crystalline limpidity for a very great
distance. A captain who was there estimated that the thickness of the
block which separated them from their mates could not be less than
fifty metres. But it seemed as if they could already stretch out a hand
to them, and general gladness broke out. Négrel decided to begin at
once the work of approach.

When Zacharie, up above, saw Maheude again, they embraced each other.

"It won't do to get excited," Pierronne, who had come for a visit of
inquisitiveness, was cruel enough to say. "If Catherine isn't there, it
would be such a grief afterwards!"

That was true; Catherine might be somewhere else.

"Just leave me alone, will you? Damn it!" cried Zacharie in a rage.
"She's there; I know it!"

Maheude sat down again in silence, with motionless face, continuing to
wait.

As soon as the story was spread at Montsou, a new crowd arrived.
Nothing was to be seen; but they remained there all the same, and had
to be kept at a distance. Down below, the work went on day and night.
For fear of meeting an obstacle, the engineer had had three descending
galleries opened in the seam, converging to the point where the
enclosed miners were supposed to be. Only one pikeman could hew at the
coal on the narrow face of the tube; he was relieved every two hours,
and the coal piled in baskets was passed up, from hand to hand, by a
chain of men, increased as the hole was hollowed out. The work at first
proceeded very quickly; they did six metres a day.

Zacharie had secured a place among the workers chosen for the hewing.
It was a post of honour which was disputed over, and he became furious
when they wished to relieve him after his regulation two hours of
labour. He robbed his mates of their turn, and refused to let go the
pick. His gallery was soon in advance of the others. He fought against
the coal so fiercely that his breath could be heard coming from the
tube like the roar of a forge within his breast. When he came out,
black and muddy, dizzy with fatigue, he fell to the ground and had to
be wrapped up in a covering. Then, still tottering, he plunged back
again, and the struggle began anew--the low, deep blows, the stifled
groans, the victorious fury of massacre. The worst was that the coal
now became hard; he twice broke his tool, and was exasperated that
he could not get on so fast. He suffered also from the heat, which
increased with every metre of advance, and was unbearable at the end of
this narrow hole where the air could not circulate. A hand ventilator
worked well, but aeration was so inadequate that on three occasions it
was necessary to take out fainting hewers who were being asphyxiated.

Négrel lived below with his men. His meals were sent down to him, and
he sometimes slept for a couple of hours on a truss of straw, rolled
in a cloak. The one thing that kept them up was the supplication of
the wretches beyond, the call which was sounded ever more distinctly
to hasten on the rescue. It now rang very clearly with a musical
sonority, as though struck on the plates of a harmonica. It led them
on; they advanced to this crystalline sound as men advance to the sound
of cannon in battle. Every time that a pikeman was relieved, Négrel
went down and struck, then applied his ear; and every time, so far,
the reply had come, rapid and urgent. He had no doubt remaining; they
were advancing in the right direction, but with what fatal slowness!
They would never arrive soon enough. On the first two days they had
indeed hewn through thirteen metres; but on the third day they fell to
five, and then on the fourth to three. The coal was becoming closer
and harder, to such an extent that they now with difficulty struck
through two metres. On the ninth day, after superhuman efforts, they
had advanced thirty-two metres, and calculated that some twenty must
still be left before them. For the prisoners it was the beginning of
the twelfth day; twelve times over had they passed twenty-four hours
without bread, without fire, in that icy darkness! This awful idea
moistened the eyelids and stiffened the arm of the workers. It seemed
impossible that Christians could live longer. The distant blows had
become weaker since the previous day, and every moment they trembled
lest they should stop.

Maheude came regularly every morning to sit at the mouth of the
shaft. In her arms she brought Estelle, who could not remain alone
from morning to night. Hour by hour she followed the workers, sharing
their hopes and fears. There was feverish expectation among the groups
standing around, and even as far as Montsou, with endless discussion.
Every heart in the district was beating down there beneath the earth.

On the ninth day, at the breakfast hour, no reply came from Zacharie
when he was called for the relay. He was like a madman, working on
furiously with oaths. Négrel, who had come up for a moment, was not
there to make him obey, and only a captain and three miners were below.
No doubt Zacharie, infuriated with the feeble vacillating light,
which delayed his work, committed the imprudence of opening his lamp,
although severe orders had been given, for leakages of fire-damp had
taken place, and the gas remained in enormous masses in these narrow,
unventilated passages. Suddenly, a roar of thunder was heard, and a
spout of fire darted out of the tube as from the mouth of a cannon
charged with grapeshot. Everything flamed up and the air caught fire
like powder, from one end of the galleries to the other. This torrent
of flame carried away the captain and three workers, ascended the pit,
and leapt up to the daylight in an eruption which split the rocks and
the ruins around. The inquisitive fled, and Maheude arose, pressing the
frightened Estelle to her breast.

When Négrel and the men came back they were seized by a terrible
rage. They struck their heels on the earth as on a stepmother who was
killing her children at random in the imbecile whims of her cruelty.
They were devoting themselves, they were coming to the help of their
mates, and still they must lose some of their men! After three long
hours of effort and danger they reached the galleries once more, and
the melancholy ascent of the victims took place. Neither the captain
nor the workers were dead, but they were covered by awful wounds which
gave out an odour of grilled flesh; they had drunk of fire, the burns
had got into their throats, and they constantly moaned and prayed to be
finished off. One of the three miners was the man who had smashed the
pump at Gaston-Marie with a final blow of the shovel during the strike;
the two others still had scars on their hands, and grazed, torn fingers
from the energy with which they had thrown bricks at the soldiers. The
pale and shuddering crowd took off their hats when they were carried by.

Maheude stood waiting. Zacharie's body at last appeared. The clothes
were burnt, the body was nothing but black charcoal, calcined and
unrecognizable. The head had been smashed by the explosion and
no longer existed. And when these awful remains were placed on a
stretcher, Maheude followed them mechanically, her burning eyelids
without a tear. With Estelle drowsily lying in her arms, she went
along, a tragic figure, her hair lashed by the wind. At the settlement
Philoméne seemed stupid; her eyes were turned into fountains and she
was quickly relieved. But the mother had already returned with the same
step to Réquillart; she had accompanied her son, she was returning to
wait for her daughter.

Three more days passed by. The rescue work had been resumed amid
incredible difficulties. The galleries of approach had fortunately not
fallen after the fire-damp explosion; but the air was so heavy and
so vitiated that more ventilators had to be installed. Every twenty
minutes the pikemen relieved one another. They were advancing; scarcely
two metres separated them from their mates. But now they worked feeling
cold at their hearts, striking hard only out of vengeance; for the
noises had ceased, and the low, clear cadence of the call no longer
sounded. It was the twelfth day of their labours, the fifteenth since
the catastrophe; and since the morning there had been a death-like
silence.

The new accident increased the curiosity at Montsou, and the
inhabitants organized excursions with such spirit that the Grégoires
decided to follow the fashion. They arranged a party, and it was agreed
that they should go to the Voreux in their carriage, while Madame
Hennebeau took Lucie and Jeanne there in hers. Deneulin would show them
over his yards and then they would return by Réquillart, where Négrel
would tell them the exact state of things in the galleries, and if
there was still hope. Finally, they would dine together in the evening.

When the Grégoires and their daughter Cécile arrived at the ruined
mine, toward three o'clock, they found Madame Hennebeau already there,
in a sea-blue dress, protecting herself under her parasol from the pale
February sun. The warmth of spring was in the clear sky. M. Hennebeau
was there with Deneulin, and she was listening, with listless ear, to
the account which the latter gave her of the efforts which had been
made to dam up the canal. Jeanne, who always carried a sketch-book with
her, began to draw, carried away by the horror of the subject; while
Lucie, seated beside her on the remains of a wagon, was crying out with
pleasure, and finding it awfully jolly. The incomplete dam allowed
numerous leaks, and frothy streams fell in a cascade down the enormous
hole of the engulfed mine. The crater was being emptied, however, and
the water, drunk by the earth, was sinking, and revealing the fearful
ruin at the bottom. Beneath the tender azure of this beautiful day
there lay a sewer, the ruins of a town drowned and melted in mud.

"And people come out of their way to see that!" exclaimed M. Grégoire,
disillusioned.

Cécile, rosy with health and glad to breathe so pure an air, was
cheerfully joking, while Madame Hennebeau made a little grimace of
repugnance as she murmured:

"The fact is, this is not pretty at all."

The two engineers laughed. They tried to interest the visitors, taking
them round and explaining to them the working of the pumps and the
manipulation of the stamper which drove in the piles. But the ladies
became anxious. They shuddered when they knew that the pumps would have
to work for six or seven years before the shaft was reconstructed and
all the water exhausted from the mine. No, they would rather think of
something else; this destruction was only good to give bad dreams.

"Let us go," said Madame Hennebeau, turning towards her carriage.

Lucie and Jeanne protested. What! so soon! and the drawing which was
not finished. They wanted to remain; their father would bring them to
dinner in the evening.

M. Hennebeau alone took his place with his wife in the carriage, for he
wished to question Négrel.

"Very well! go on before," said M. Grégoire. "We will follow you;
we have a little visit of five minutes to make over there at the
settlement. Go on, go on! we shall be at Réquillart as soon as you."

He got up behind Madame Grégoire and Cécile, and while the other
carriage went along by the canal, theirs gently ascended the slope.

Their excursion was to be completed by a visit of charity. Zacharie's
death had filled them with pity for this tragical Maheu family, about
whom the whole country was talking. They had no pity for the father,
that brigand, that slayer of soldiers, who had to be struck down like
a wolf. But the mother touched them, that poor woman who had just lost
her son after having lost her husband, and whose daughter was perhaps a
corpse beneath the earth; to say nothing of an invalid grandfather, a
child who was lame as the result of a landslip, and a little girl who
died of starvation during the strike. So that, though this family had
in part deserved its misfortunes by the detestable spirit it had shown,
they had resolved to assert the breadth of their charity, their desire
for forgetfulness and conciliation, by themselves bringing on alms. Two
parcels, carefully wrapped up, had been placed beneath a seat of the
carriage.

An old woman pointed out to the coachman Maheude's house, No. 16 in
the second block. But when the Grégoires alighted with the parcels,
they knocked in vain; at last they struck their fists against the door,
still without reply; the house echoed mournfully, like a house emptied
by grief, frozen and dark, long since abandoned.

"There's no one there," said Cécile, disappointed. "What a nuisance!
What shall we do with all this?"

Suddenly the door of the next house opened, and the Levaque woman
appeared.

"Oh, sir! I beg pardon, ma'am. Excuse me, miss. It's the neighbour that
you want? She's not there; she's at Réquillart."

With a flow of words she told them the story, repeating to them that
people must help one another, and that she was keeping Lénore and
Henri in her house to allow the mother to go and wait over there. Her
eyes had fallen on the parcels, and she began to talk about her poor
daughter, who had become a widow, displaying her own wretchedness,
while her eyes shone with covetousness. Then, in a hesitating way, she
muttered:

"I've got the key. If the lady and gentleman would really like---- The
grandfather is there."

The Grégoires looked at her in stupefaction. What! The grandfather was
there! But no one had replied. He was sleeping, then? And when the
Levaque made up her mind to open the door, what they saw stopped them
on the threshold. Bonnemort was there alone, with large fixed eyes,
nailed to his chair in front of the cold fireplace. Around him the room
appeared larger without the clock or the polished deal furniture which
formerly animated it; there only remained against the green crudity of
the walls the portraits of the Emperor and Empress, whose rosy lips
were smiling with official benevolence. The old man did not stir nor
wink his eyelids beneath the sudden light from the door; he seemed
imbecile, as though he had not seen all these people come in. At his
feet lay his plate, garnished with ashes, such as is placed for cats
for ordure.

"Don't mind if he's not very polite," said the Levaque woman,
obligingly. "Seems he's broken something in his brain. It's a fortnight
since he left off speaking."

But Bonnemort was shaken by some agitation, a deep scraping which
seemed to arise from his belly, and he expectorated into the plate a
thick black expectoration. The ashes were soaked into a coaly mud,
all the coal of the mine which he drew from his chest. He had already
resumed his immobility. He stirred no more, except at intervals, to
spit.

Uneasy, and with stomachs turned, the Grégoires endeavoured to utter a
few friendly and encouraging words.

"Well, my good man," said the father, "you have a cold, then?"

The old man, with his eyes to the wall, did not turn his head. And a
heavy silence fell once more.

"They ought to make you a little gruel," added the mother.

He preserved his mute stiffness.

"I say, papa," murmured Cécile, "they certainly told us he was an
invalid; only we did not think of it afterwards--"

She interrupted herself, much embarrassed. After having placed on the
table a _pot-au-feu_ and two bottles of wine, she undid the second
parcel and drew from it a pair of enormous boots. It was the present
intended for the grandfather, and she held one boot in each hand, in
confusion, contemplating the poor man's swollen feet, which would never
walk again.

"Eh! they come a little late, don't they, my worthy fellow?" said M.
Grégoire again, to enliven the situation. "It doesn't matter, they're
always useful."

Bonnemort neither heard nor replied, with his terrible face as cold and
as hard as a stone.

Then Cécile furtively placed the boots against the wall. But in spite
of her precautions the nails clanked; and those enormous boots stood
oppressively in the room.

"He won't say thank you," said the Levaque woman, who had cast a look
of deep envy on the boots. "Might as well give a pair of spectacles to
a duck, asking your pardon."

She went on; she was trying to draw the Grégoires into her own house,
where she hoped to gain their pity. At last she thought of a pretext;
she praised Henri and Lénore, who were so good, so gentle, and so
intelligent, answering like angels the questions that they were asked.
They would tell the lady and gentleman all that they wished to know.

"Will you come for a moment, my child?" asked the father, glad to get
away.

"Yes, I'll follow you," she replied.

Cécile remained alone with Bonnemort. What kept her there trembling
and fascinated, was the thought that she seemed to recognize this old
man: where then had she met this square livid face, tattooed with coal?
Suddenly she remembered; she saw again a mob of shouting people who
surrounded her, and she felt cold hands pressing her neck. It was he;
she saw the man again; she looked at his hands placed on his knees,
the hands of an invalid workman whose whole strength is in his wrists,
still firm in spite of age. Gradually Bonnemort seemed to awake, he
perceived her and examined her in his turn. A flame mounted to his
cheeks, a nervous spasm drew his mouth, from which flowed a thin streak
of black saliva. Fascinated, they remained opposite each other--she
flourishing, plump, and fresh from the long idleness and sated comfort
of her race; he swollen with water, with the pitiful ugliness of a
foundered beast, destroyed from father to son by a century of work and
hunger.

At the end of ten minutes, when the Grégoires, surprised at not seeing
Cécile, came back into the Maheus' house, they uttered a terrible cry.
Their daughter was lying on the ground, with livid face, strangled. At
her neck fingers had left the red imprint of a giant's hand. Bonnemort,
tottering on his dead legs, had fallen beside her without power to
rise. His hands were still hooked, and he looked round with his
imbecile air and large open eyes. In his fall he had broken his plate,
the ashes were spread round, the mud of the black expectoration had
stained the floor; while the great pair of boots, safe and sound, stood
side by side against the wall.

It was never possible to establish the exact facts. Why had Cécile come
near? How could Bonnemort, nailed to his chair, have been able to seize
her throat? Evidently, when he held her, he must have become furious,
constantly pressing, overthrown with her, and stifling her cries to the
last groan. Not a sound, not a moan had traversed the thin partition to
the neighbouring house. It seemed to be an outbreak of sudden madness,
a longing to murder before this white young neck. Such savagery was
stupefying in an old invalid, who had lived like a worthy man, an
obedient brute, opposed to new ideas. What rancour, unknown to himself,
by some slow process of poisoning, had risen from his bowels to his
brain? The horror of it led to the conclusion that he was unconscious,
that it was the crime of an idiot.

The Grégoires, meanwhile, on their knees, were sobbing, choked with
grief. Their idolized daughter, that daughter desired so long, on whom
they had lavished all their goods, whom they used to watch sleeping,
on tiptoe, whom they never thought sufficiently well nourished, never
sufficiently plump! It was the downfall of their very life; what was
the good of living, now that they would have to live without her?

The Levaque woman in distraction cried:

"Ah, the old beggar! what's he done there? Who would have expected such
a thing? And Maheude, who won't come back till evening! Shall I go and
fetch her?"

The father and mother were crushed, and did not reply.

"Eh? It will be better. I'll go."

But, before going, the Levaque woman looked at the boots. The whole
settlement was excited, and a crowd was already hustling around.
Perhaps they would get stolen. And then the Maheus had no man, now,
to put them on. She quietly carried them away. They would just fit
Bouteloup's feet.

At Réquillart the Hennebeaus, with Négrel, waited a long time for the
Grégoires. Négrel, who had come up from the pit, gave details. They
hoped to communicate that very evening with the prisoners, but they
would certainly find nothing but corpses, for the death-like silence
continued. Behind the engineer, Maheude, seated on the beam, was
listening with white face, when the Levaque woman came up and told her
the old man's strange deed. And she only made a sweeping gesture of
impatience and irritation. She followed her, however.

Madame Hennebeau was much affected. What an abomination! That poor
Cécile, so merry that very day, so full of life an hour before! M.
Hennebeau had to lead his wife for a moment into old Mouque's hovel.
With his awkward hands he unfastened her dress, troubled by the odour
of musk which her open bodice exhaled. And as with streaming tears she
clasped Négrel, terrified at this death which cut short the marriage,
the husband watched them lamenting together, and was delivered from one
anxiety. This misfortune would arrange everything; he preferred to keep
his nephew for fear of his coachman.



CHAPTER V


At the bottom of the shaft the abandoned wretches were yelling with
terror. The water now came up to their hips. The noise of the torrent
dazed them, the final falling in of the tubbing sounded like the last
crack of doom; and their bewilderment was completed by the neighing of
the horses shut up in the stable, the terrible, unforgettable death-cry
of an animal that is being slaughtered.

Mouque had let go Bataille. The old horse was there, trembling, with
its dilated eye fixed on this water which was constantly rising. The
pit-eye was rapidly filling; the greenish flood slowly enlarged under
the red gleam of the three lamps which were still burning under the
roof. And suddenly, when he felt this ice soaking his coat, he set out
in a furious gallop, and was engulfed and lost at the end of one of the
haulage galleries.

Then there was a general rush, the men following the beast.

"Nothing more to be done in this damned hole!" shouted Mouque. "We must
try at Réquillart."

The idea that they might get out by the old neighbouring pit if
they arrived before the passage was cut off, now carried them away.
The twenty hustled one another as they went in single file, holding
their lamps in the air so that the water should not extinguish them.
Fortunately, the gallery rose with an imperceptible slope, and they
proceeded for two hundred metres, struggling against the flood, which
was not now gaining on them. Sleeping beliefs reawakened in these
distracted souls; they invoked the earth, for it was the earth that
was avenging herself, discharging the blood from the vein because they
had cut one of her arteries. An old man stammered forgotten prayers,
bending his thumbs backwards to appease the evil spirits of the mine.

But at the first turning disagreement broke out; the groom proposed
turning to the left, others declared that they could make a short cut
by going to the right. A minute was lost.

"Well, die there! what the devil does it matter to me?" Chaval brutally
exclaimed. "I go this way."

He turned to the right, and two mates followed him. The others
continued to rush behind Father Mouque, who had grown up at the bottom
of Réquillart. He himself hesitated, however, not knowing where to
turn. They lost their heads; even the old men could no longer recognize
the passages, which lay like a tangled skein before them. At every
bifurcation they were pulled up short by uncertainty, and yet they had
to decide.

Étienne was running last, delayed by Catherine, who was paralysed by
fatigue and fear. He would have gone to the right with Chaval, for he
thought that the better road; but he had not, preferring to part from
Chaval. The rush continued, however; some of the mates had gone from
their side, and only seven were left behind old Mouque.

"Hang on to my neck and I will carry you," said Étienne to the young
girl, seeing her grow weak.

"No, let me be," she murmured. "I can't do more; I would rather die at
once."

They delayed and were left fifty metres behind; he was lifting her,
in spite of her resistance, when the gallery was suddenly stopped up;
an enormous block fell in and separated them from the others. The
inundation was already soaking the soil, which was shifting on every
side. They had to retrace their steps; then they no longer knew in what
direction they were going. There was an end of all hope of escaping by
Réquillart. Their only remaining hope was to gain the upper workings,
from which they might perhaps be delivered if the water sank.

Étienne at last recognized the Guillaume seam.

"Good!" he exclaimed. "Now I know where we are. By God! we were in the
right road; but we may go to the devil now! Here, let us go straight
on; we will climb up the passage."

The flood was beating against their breasts, and they walked very
slowly. As long as they had light they did not despair, and they blew
out one of the lamps to economize the oil, meaning to empty it into the
other lamp. They had reached the chimney passage, when a noise behind
made them turn. Was it some mates, then, who had also found the road
barred and were returning? A roaring sound came from afar; they could
not understand this tempest which approached them, spattering foam. And
they cried out when they saw a gigantic whitish mass coming out of the
shadow and trying to rejoin them between the narrow timbering in which
it was being crushed.

It was Bataille. On leaving the pit-eye he had wildly galloped along
the dark galleries. He seemed to know his road in this subterranean
town which he had inhabited for eleven years, and his eyes saw clearly
in the depths of the eternal night in which he had lived. He galloped
on and on, bending his head, drawing up his feet, passing through these
narrow tubes in the earth, filled by his great body. Road succeeded
to road, and the forked turnings were passed without any hesitation.
Where was he going? Over there, perhaps, towards that vision of his
youth, to the mill where he had been born on the bank of the Scarpe, to
the confused recollection of the sun burning in the air like a great
lamp. He desired to live, his beast's memory awoke; the longing to
breathe once more the air of the plains drove him straight onwards to
the discovery of that hole, the exit beneath the warm sun into light.
Rebellion carried away his ancient resignation; this pit was murdering
him after having blinded him. The water which pursued him was lashing
him on the flanks and biting him on the crupper. But as he went deeper
in, the galleries became narrower, the roofs lower, and the walls
protruded. He galloped on in spite of everything, grazing himself,
leaving shreds of his limbs on the timber. From every side the mine
seemed to be pressing on to him to take him and to stifle him.

Then Étienne and Catherine, as he came near them, perceived that he
was strangling between the rocks. He had stumbled and broken his two
front legs. With a last effort, he dragged himself a few metres, but
his flanks could not pass; he remained hemmed in and garrotted by the
earth. With his bleeding head stretched out, he still sought for some
crack with his great troubled eyes. The water was rapidly covering
him; he began to neigh with that terrible prolonged death-rattle with
which the other horses had already died in the stable. It was a sight
of fearful agony, this old beast shattered and motionless, struggling
at this depth, far from the daylight. The flood was drowning his mane,
and his cry of distress never ceased; he uttered it more hoarsely, with
his large open mouth stretched out. There was a last rumble, the hollow
sound of a cask which is being filled; then deep silence fell.

"Oh, my God! take me away!" Catherine sobbed. "Ah, my God! I'm afraid;
I don't want to die. Take me away! take me away!"

She had seen death. The fallen shaft, the inundated mine, nothing had
seized her with such terror as this clamour of Bataille in agony. And
she constantly heard it; her ears were ringing with it; all her flesh
was shuddering with it.

"Take me away! take me away!"

Étienne had seized her and lifted her; it was, indeed, time. They
ascended the chimney passage, soaked to the shoulders. He was obliged
to help her, for she had no strength to cling to the timber. Three
times over he thought that she was slipping from him and falling back
into that deep sea of which the tide was roaring beneath them. However,
they were able to breathe for a few minutes when they reached the first
gallery, which was still free. The water reappeared, and they had to
hoist themselves up again. And for hours this ascent continued, the
flood chasing them from passage to passage, and constantly forcing them
to ascend. At the sixth level a respite rendered them feverish with
hope, and it seemed that the waters were becoming stationary. But a
more rapid rise took place, and they had to climb to the seventh and
then to the eighth level. Only one remained, and when they had reached
it they anxiously watched each centimetre by which the water gained
on them. If it did not stop they would then die like the old horse,
crushed against the roof, and their chests filled by the flood.

Landslips echoed every moment. The whole mine was shaken, and its
distended bowels burst with the enormous flood which gorged them. At
the end of the galleries the air, driven back, pressed together and
crushed, exploded terribly amid split rocks and overthrown soil. It was
a terrifying uproar of interior cataclysms, a remnant of the ancient
battle when deluges overthrew the earth, burying the mountains beneath
the plains.

And Catherine, shaken and dazed by this continuous downfall, joined her
hands, stammering the same words without cessation:

"I don't want to die! I don't want to die!"

To reassure her, Étienne declared that the water was not now moving.
Their flight had lasted for fully six hours, and they would soon be
rescued. He said six hours without knowing, for they had lost all count
of time. In reality, a whole day had already passed in their climb up
through the Guillaume seam.

Drenched and shivering, they settled themselves down. She undressed
herself without shame and wrung out her clothes, then she put on
again the jacket and breeches, and let them finish drying on her. As
her feet were bare, he made her take his own sabots. They could wait
patiently now; they had lowered the wick of the lamp, leaving only the
feeble gleam of a night-light. But their stomachs were torn by cramp,
and they both realized that they were dying of hunger. Up till now
they had not felt that they were living. The catastrophe had occurred
before breakfast, and now they found their bread-and-butter swollen
by the water and changed into sop. She had to become angry before he
would accept his share. As soon as she had eaten she fell asleep from
weariness, on the cold earth. He was devoured by insomnia, and watched
over her with fixed eyes and forehead between his hands.

How many hours passed by thus? He would have been unable to say. All
that he knew was that before him, through the hole they had ascended,
he had seen the flood reappear, black and moving, the beast whose back
was ceaselessly swelling out to reach them. At first it was only a thin
line, a supple serpent stretching itself out; then it enlarged into a
crawling, crouching flank; and soon it reached them, and the sleeping
girl's feet were touched by it. In his anxiety he yet hesitated to wake
her. Was it not cruel to snatch her from this repose of unconscious
ignorance, which was, perhaps, lulling her with a dream of the open
air and of life beneath the sun? Besides, where could they fly? And he
thought and remembered that the upbrow established at this part of the
seam communicated end to end with that which served the upper level.
That would be a way out. He let her sleep as long as possible, watching
the flood gain on them, waiting for it to chase them away. At last he
lifted her gently, and a great shudder passed over her.

"Ah, my God! it's true! it's beginning again, my God!"

She remembered, she cried out, again finding death so near.

"No! calm yourself," he whispered. "We can pass, upon my word!"

To reach the upbrow they had to walk doubled up, again wetted to the
shoulders. And the climbing began anew, now more dangerous, through
this hole entirely of timber, a hundred metres long. At first they
wished to pull the cable so as to fix one of the carts at the bottom,
for if the other should come down during their ascent, they would
be crushed. But nothing moved, some obstacle interfered with the
mechanism. They ventured in, not daring to make use of the cable which
was in their way, and tearing their nails against the smooth framework.
He came behind, supporting her by his head when she slipped with torn
hands. Suddenly they came across the splinters of a beam which barred
the way. A portion of the soil had fallen down and prevented them from
going any higher. Fortunately a door opened here and they passed into a
passage. They were stupefied to see the flicker of a lamp in front of
them. A man cried wildly to them:

"More clever people as big fools as I am!"

They recognized Chaval, who had found himself blocked by the landslip
which filled the upbrow; his two mates who had set out with him had
been left on the way with fractured skulls. He was wounded in the
elbow, but had had the courage to go back on his knees, take their
lamps, and search them to steal their bread-and-butter. As he escaped,
a final downfall behind his back had closed the gallery.

He immediately swore that he would not share his victuals with these
people who came up out of the earth. He would sooner knock their brains
out. Then he, too, recognized them; his anger fell, and he began to
laugh with a laugh of evil joy.

"Ah! it's you, Catherine! you've broken your nose, and you want to join
your man again. Well, well! we'll play out the game together."

He pretended not to see Étienne. The latter, overwhelmed by this
encounter, made a gesture as though to protect the putter, who was
pressing herself against him. He must, however, accept the situation.
Speaking as though they had left each other good friends an hour
before, he simply asked:

"Have you looked down below? We can't pass through the cuttings, then?"

Chaval still grinned.

"Ah, bosh! the cuttings! They've fallen in too; we are between two
walls, a real mousetrap. But you can go back by the brow if you are a
good diver."

The water, in fact, was rising; they could hear it rippling. Their
retreat was already cut off. And he was right; it was a mousetrap,
a gallery-end obstructed before and behind by considerable falls of
earth. There was not one issue; all three were walled up.

"Then you'll stay?" Chaval added, jeeringly. "Well, it's the best you
can do, and if you'll just leave me alone, I shan't even speak to you.
There's still room here for two men. We shall soon see which will die
first, provided they don't come to us, which seems a tough job."

The young man said:

"If we were to hammer, they would hear us, perhaps."

"I'm tired of hammering. Here, try yourself with this stone."

Étienne picked up the fragment of sandstone which the other had already
broken off, and against the seam at the end he struck the miner's call,
the prolonged roll by which workmen in peril signal their presence.
Then he placed his ear to listen. Twenty times over he persisted; no
sound replied.

During this time Chaval affected to be coolly attending to his little
household. First he arranged the three lamps against the wall; only one
was burning, the others could be used later on. Afterwards, he placed
on a piece of timber the two slices of bread-and-butter which were
still left. That was the sideboard; he could last quite two days with
that, if he were careful. He turned round saying:

"You know, Catherine, there will be half for you when you are famished."

The young girl was silent. It completed her unhappiness to find herself
again between these two men.

And their awful life began. Neither Chaval nor Étienne opened their
mouths, seated on the earth a few paces from each other. At a hint
from the former the latter extinguished his lamp, a piece of useless
luxury; then they sank back into silence. Catherine was lying down near
Étienne, restless under the glances of her former lover. The hours
passed by; they heard the low murmur of the water for ever rising;
while from time to time deep shocks and distant echoes announced the
final settling down of the mine. When the lamp was empty and they had
to open another to light it, they were, for a moment, disturbed by
the fear of fire-damp; but they would rather have been blown up at
once than live on in darkness. Nothing exploded, however; there was no
fire-damp. They stretched themselves out again, and the hours continued
to pass by.

A noise aroused Étienne and Catherine, and they raised their
heads. Chaval had decided to eat; he had cut off half a slice of
bread-and-butter, and was chewing it slowly, to avoid the temptation of
swallowing it all. They gazed at him, tortured by hunger.

"Well, do you refuse?" he said to the putter, in his provoking way.
"You're wrong."

She had lowered her eyes, fearing to yield; her stomach was torn by
such cramps that tears were swelling beneath her eyelids. But she
understood what he was asking; in the morning he had breathed over her
neck; he was seized again by one of his old furies of desire on seeing
her near the other man. The glances with which he called her had a
flame in them which she knew well, the flame of his crises of jealousy
when he would fall on her with his fists, accusing her of committing
abominations with her mother's lodger. And she was not willing; she
trembled lest, by returning to him, she should throw these two men
on to each other in this narrow cave, where they were all in agony
together. Good God! why could they not end together in comradeship!

Étienne would have died of inanition rather than beg a mouthful of
bread from Chaval. The silence became heavy; an eternity seemed to be
prolonging itself with the slowness of monotonous minutes which passed
by, one by one, without hope. They had now been shut up together for a
day. The second lamp was growing pale, and they lighted the third.

Chaval started on his second slice of bread-and-butter, and growled:

"Come then, stupid!"

Catherine shivered. Étienne had turned away in order to leave her free.
Then, as she did not stir, he said to her in a low voice:

"Go, my child."

The tears which she was stifling then rushed forth. She wept for a
long time, without even strength to rise, no longer knowing if she was
hungry, suffering with pain which she felt all over her body. He was
standing up, going backward and forwards, vainly beating the miners
call, enraged at this remainder of life which he was obliged to live
here tied to a rival whom he detested. Not even enough space to die
away from each other! As soon as he had gone ten paces he must come
back and knock up against this man. And she, this sorrowful girl whom
they were disputing over even in the earth! She would belong to the
one who lived longest; that man would steal her from him should he
go first. There was no end to it; the hours followed the hours; the
revolting promiscuity became worse, with the poison of their breaths
and the ordure of their necessities satisfied in common. Twice he
rushed against the rocks as though to open them with his fists.

Another day was done, and Chaval had seated himself near Catherine,
sharing with her his last half-slice. She was chewing the mouthfuls
painfully; he made her pay for each with a caress, in his jealous
obstinacy not willing to die until he had had her again in the other
man's presence. She abandoned herself in exhaustion. But when he tried
to take her she complained.

"Oh, leave me! you're breaking my bones."

Étienne, with a shudder, had placed his forehead against the timber so
as not to see. He came back with a wild leap.

"Leave her, by God!"

"Does it concern you?" said Chaval. "She's my woman; I suppose she
belongs to me!"

And he took her again and pressed her, out of bravado, crushing his red
moustache against her mouth, and continuing:

"Will you leave us alone, eh? Will you be good enough to look over
there if we are at it?"

But Étienne, with white lips, shouted:

"If you don't let her go, I'll do for you!"

The other quickly stood up, for he had understood by the hiss of the
voice that his mate was in earnest. Death seemed to them too slow; it
was necessary that one of them should immediately yield his place. It
was the old battle beginning over again, down in the earth where they
would soon sleep side by side; and they had so little room that they
could not swing their fists without grazing them.

"Look out!" growled Chaval. "This time I'll have you."

From that moment Étienne became mad. His eyes seemed drowned in red
vapour, his chest was congested by the flow of blood. The need to kill
seized him irresistibly, a physical need, like the irritation of mucus
which causes a violent spasm of coughing. It rose and broke out beyond
his will, beneath the pressure of the hereditary disease. He had seized
a sheet of slate in the wall and he shook it and tore it out, a very
large, heavy piece. Then with both hands and with tenfold strength he
brought it down on Chaval's skull.

The latter had not time to jump backwards. He fell, his face crushed,
his skull broken. The brains had bespattered the roof of the gallery,
and a purple jet flowed from the wound, like the continuous jet of a
spring. Immediately there was a pool, which reflected the smoky star
of the lamp. Darkness was invading the walled-up cave, and this body,
lying on the earth, looked like the black boss of a mass of rough coal.

Leaning over, with wide eyes, Étienne looked at him. It was done, then;
he had killed. All his struggles came back to his memory confusedly,
that useless fight against the poison which slept in his muscles,
the slowly accumulated alcohol of his race. He was, however, only
intoxicated by hunger; the remote intoxication of his parents had been
enough. His hair stood up before the horror of this murder; and yet, in
spite of the revolt which came from his education, a certain gladness
made his heart beat, the animal joy of an appetite at length satisfied.
He felt pride, too, the pride of the stronger man. The little soldier
appeared before him, with his throat opened by a knife, killed by a
child. Now he, too, had killed.

But Catherine, standing erect, uttered a loud cry:

"My God! he is dead!"

"Are you sorry?" asked Étienne, fiercely.

She was choking, she stammered. Then, tottering, she threw herself into
his arms.

"Ah, kill me too! Ah, let us both die!"

She clasped him, hanging to his shoulders, and he clasped her; and they
hoped that they would die. But death was in no hurry, and they unlocked
their arms. Then, while she hid her eyes, he dragged away the wretch,
and threw him down the upbrow, to remove him from the narrow space in
which they still had to live. Life would no longer have been possible
with that corpse beneath their feet. And they were terrified when they
heard it plunge into the midst of the foam which leapt up. The water
had already filled that hole, then? They saw it; it was entering the
gallery.

Then there was a new struggle. They had lighted the last lamp; it
was becoming exhausted in illuminating this flood, with its regular,
obstinate rise which never ceased. At first the water came up to their
ankles; then it wetted their knees. The passage sloped up, and they
took refuge at the end. This gave them a respite for some hours. But
the flood caught them up, and bathed them to the waist. Standing up,
brought to bay, with their spines close against the rock, they watched
it ever and ever increasing. When it reached their mouths, all would
be over. The lamp, which they had fastened up, threw a yellow light
on the rapid surge of the little waves. It was becoming pale; they
could distinguish no more than a constantly diminishing semicircle, as
though eaten away by the darkness which seemed to grow with the flood;
and suddenly the darkness enveloped them. The lamp had gone out, after
having spat forth its last drop of oil. There was now complete and
absolute night, that night of the earth which they would have to sleep
through without ever again opening their eyes to the brightness of the
sun.

"By God!" Étienne swore, in a low voice.

Catherine, as though she had felt the darkness seize her, sheltered
herself against him. She repeated, in a whisper, the miner's saying:

"Death is blowing out the lamp."

Yet in the face of this threat their instincts struggled, the fever
for life animated them. He violently set himself to hollow out the
slate with the hook of the lamp, while she helped him with her nails.
They formed a sort of elevated bench, and when they had both hoisted
themselves up to it, they found themselves seated with hanging legs and
bent backs, for the vault forced them to lower their heads. They now
only felt the icy water at their heels; but before long the cold was at
their ankles, their calves, their knees, with its invincible, truceless
movement. The bench, not properly smoothed, was soaked in moisture, and
so slippery that they had to hold themselves on vigorously to avoid
slipping off. It was the end; what could they expect, reduced to this
niche where they dared not move, exhausted, starving, having neither
bread nor light? and they suffered especially from the darkness,
which would not allow them to see the coming of death. There was deep
silence; the mine, being gorged with water, no longer stirred. They had
nothing beneath them now but the sensation of that sea, swelling out
its silent tide from the depths of the galleries.

The hours succeeded one another, all equally black; but they were not
able to measure their exact duration, becoming more and more vague
in their calculation of time. Their tortures, which might have been
expected to lengthen the minutes, rapidly bore them away. They thought
that they had only been shut up for two days and a night, when in
reality the third day had already come to an end. All hope of help had
gone; no one knew they were there, no one could come down to them. And
hunger would finish them off if the inundation spared them. For one
last time it occurred to them to beat the call, but the stone was lying
beneath the water. Besides, who would hear them?

Catherine was leaning her aching head against the seam, when she sat up
with a start.

"Listen!" she said.

At first Étienne thought she was speaking of the low noise of the
ever-rising water. He lied in order to quiet her.

"It's me you hear; I'm moving my legs."

"No, no; not that! Over there, listen!"

And she placed her ear to the coal. He understood, and did likewise.
They waited for some seconds, with stifled breath. Then, very far away
and very weak, they heard three blows at long intervals. But they still
doubted; their ears were ringing; perhaps it was the cracking of the
soil. And they knew not what to strike with in answer.

Étienne had an idea.

"You have the sabots. Take them off and strike with the heels."

She struck, beating the miner's call; and they listened and again
distinguished the three blows far off. Twenty times over they did it,
and twenty times the blows replied. They wept and embraced each other,
at the risk of losing their balance. At last the mates were there, they
were coming. An overflowing joy and love carried away the torments
of expectation and the rage of their vain appeals, as though their
rescuers had only to split the rock with a finger to deliver them.

"Eh!" she cried merrily; "wasn't it lucky that I leant my head?"

"Oh, you've got an ear!" he said in his turn. "Now, _I_ heard
nothing."

From that moment they relieved each other, one of them always
listening, ready to answer at the least signal. They soon caught the
sounds of the pick; the work of approaching them was beginning, a
gallery was being opened. Not a sound escaped them. But their joy sank.
In vain they laughed to deceive each other; despair was gradually
seizing them. At first they entered into long explanations; evidently
they were being approached from Réquillart. The gallery descended in
the bed; perhaps several were being opened, for there were always
three men hewing. Then they talked less, and were at last silent when
they came to calculate the enormous mass which separated them from
their mates. They continued their reflections in silence, counting the
days and days that a workman would take to penetrate such a block.
They would never be reached soon enough; they would have time to die
twenty times over. And no longer venturing to exchange a word in this
redoubled anguish, they gloomily replied to the appeals by a roll of
the sabots, without hope, only retaining the mechanical need to tell
the others that they were still alive.

Thus passed a day, two days. They had been at the bottom six days. The
water had stopped at their knees, neither rising nor falling, and their
legs seemed to be melting away in this icy bath. They could certainly
keep them out for an hour or so, but their position then became so
uncomfortable that they were twisted by horrible cramps, and were
obliged to let their feet fall in again. Every ten minutes they hoisted
themselves back by a jerk on the slippery rock. The fractures of the
coal struck into their spines, and they felt at the back of their
necks a fixed intense pain, through having to keep constantly bent in
order to avoid striking their heads. And their suffocation increased;
the air, driven back by the water, was compressed into a sort of bell
in which they were shut up. Their voices were muffled, and seemed to
come from afar. Their ears began to buzz, they heard the peals of a
furious tocsin, the tramp of a flock beneath a storm of hail, going on
unceasingly.

At first Catherine suffered horribly from hunger. She pressed her
poor shrivelled hands against her breasts, her breathing was deep and
hollow, a continuous tearing moan, as though tongs were tearing her
stomach.

Étienne, choked by the same torture, was feeling feverishly round him
in the darkness, when his fingers came upon a half-rotten piece of
timber, which his nails could crumble. He gave a handful of it to the
putter, who swallowed it greedily. For two days they lived on this
worm-eaten wood, devouring it all, in despair when it was finished,
grazing their hands in the effort to crush the other planks which were
still solid with resisting fibres. Their torture increased, and they
were enraged that they could not chew the cloth of their clothes. A
leather belt, which he wore round the waist, relieved them a little.
He bit small pieces from it with his teeth, and she chewed them, and
endeavoured to swallow them. This occupied their jaws, and gave them
the illusion of eating. Then, when the belt was finished, they went
back to their clothes, sucking them for hours.

But soon these violent crises subsided; hunger became only a low deep
ache with the slow progressive languor of their strength. No doubt they
would have succumbed if they had not had as much water as they desired.
They merely bent down and drank from the hollow of the hand, and that
very frequently, parched by a thirst which all this water could not
quench.

On the seventh day Catherine was bending down to drink, when her hand
struck some floating body before her.

"I say, look! What's this?"

Étienne felt in the darkness.

"I can't make out; it seems like the cover of a ventilation door."

She drank, but as she was drawing up a second mouthful the body came
back, striking her hand. And she uttered a terrible cry.

"My God! it's he!"

"Whom do you mean?"

"Him! You know well enough. I felt his moustache."

It was Chaval's corpse, risen from the upbrow and pushed on to them by
the flow. Étienne stretched out his arm; he, too, felt the moustache
and the crushed nose, and shuddered with disgust and fear. Seized by
horrible nausea, Catherine had spat out the water which was still in
her mouth. It seemed to her that she had been drinking blood, and that
all the deep water before her was now that man's blood.

"Wait!" stammered Étienne. "I'll push him off!"

He kicked the corpse, which moved off. But soon they felt it again
striking against their legs.

"By God! Get off!"

And the third time Étienne had to leave it. Some current always brought
it back. Chaval would not go; he desired to be with them, against them.
It was an awful companion, at last poisoning the air. All that day they
never drank, struggling, preferring to die. It was not until the next
day that their suffering decided them: they pushed away the body at
each mouthful and drank in spite of it. It had not been worth while to
knock his brains out, for he came back between him and her, obstinate
in his jealousy. To the very end he would be there, even though he was
dead, preventing them from coming together.

A day passed, and again another day. At every shiver of the water
Étienne perceived a slight blow from the man he had killed, the simple
elbowing of a neighbour who is reminding you of his presence. And
every time it came he shuddered. He continually saw it there, swollen,
greenish, with the red moustache and the crushed face. Then he no
longer remembered; he had not killed him; the other man was swimming
and trying to bite him.

Catherine was now shaken by long endless fits of crying, after which
she was completely prostrated. She fell at last into a condition of
irresistible drowsiness. He would arouse her, but she stammered a few
words and at once fell asleep again without even raising her eyelids;
and fearing lest she should be drowned, he put his arm round her waist.
It was he now who replied to the mates. The blows of the pick were now
approaching, he could hear them behind his back. But his strength, too,
was diminishing; he had lost all courage to strike. They were known to
be there; why weary oneself more? It no longer interested him whether
they came or not. In the stupefaction of waiting he would forget for
hours at a time what he was waiting for.

One relief comforted them a little: the water sank, and Chaval's
body moved off. For nine days the work of their deliverance had been
going on, and they were for the first time taking a few steps in the
gallery when a fearful commotion threw them to the ground. They felt
for each other and remained in each other's arms like mad people, not
understanding, thinking the catastrophe was beginning over again.
Nothing more stirred, the sound of the picks had ceased.

In the corner where they were seated holding each other, side by side,
a low laugh came from Catherine.

"It must be good outside. Come, let's go out of here."

Étienne at first struggled against this madness. But the contagion was
shaking his stronger head, and he lost the exact sensation of reality.
All their senses seemed to go astray, especially Catherine's. She
was shaken by fever, tormented now by the need to talk and move. The
ringing in her ears had become the murmur of flowing water, the song
of birds; she smelled the strong odour of crushed grass, and could see
clearly great yellow patches floating before her eyes, so large that
she thought she was out of doors, near the canal, in the meadows on a
fine summer day.

"Eh? how warm it is! Take me, then; let us keep together. Oh, always,
always!"

He pressed her, and she rubbed herself against him for a long time,
continuing to chatter like a happy girl:

"How silly we have been to wait so long! I would have liked you at
once, and you did not understand; you sulked. Then, do you remember,
at our house at night, when we could not sleep, with our faces out
listening to each other's breathing, with such a longing to come
together?"

He was won by her gaiety, and joked over the recollection of their
silent tenderness.

"You struck me once. Yes, yes, blows on both cheeks!"

"It was because I loved you," she murmured. "You see, I prevented
myself from thinking of you. I said to myself that it was quite done
with, and all the time I knew that one day or another we should get
together. It only wanted an opportunity--some lucky chance. Wasn't it
so?"

A shudder froze him. He tried to shake off this dream; then he repeated
slowly:

"Nothing is ever done with; a little happiness is enough to make
everything begin again."

"Then you'll keep me, and it will be all right this time?"

And she slipped down fainting. She was so weak that her low voice died
out. In terror he kept her against his heart.

"Are you in pain?"

She sat up surprised.

"No, not at all. Why?"

But this question aroused her from her dream. She gazed at the darkness
with distraction, wringing her hands in another fit of sobbing.

"My God, my God, how black it is!"

It was no longer the meadows, the odour of the grass, the song of
larks, the great yellow sun; it was the fallen, inundated mine, the
stinking gloom, the melancholy dripping of this cellar where they had
been groaning for so many days. Her perverted senses now increased the
horror of it; her childish superstitions came back to her; she saw the
Black Man, the old dead miner who returns to the pit to twist naughty
girls' necks.

"Listen! did you hear?"

"No, nothing; I heard nothing."

"Yes, the Man--you know? Look! he is there. The earth has let all the
blood out of the vein to revenge itself for being cut into; and he is
there--you can see him--look! blacker than night. Oh, I'm so afraid,
I'm so afraid!"

She became silent, shivering. Then in a very low voice she whispered:

"No, it's always the other one."

"What other one?"

"Him who is with us; who is not alive."

The image of Chaval haunted her, she talked of him confusedly, she
described the dog's life she led with him, the only day when he had
been kind to her at Jean-Bart, the other days of follies and blows,
when he would kill her with caresses after having covered her with
kicks.

"I tell you that he's coming, that he will still keep us from being
together! His jealousy is coming on him again. Oh, push him off! Oh,
keep me close!"

With a sudden impulse she hung on to him, seeking his mouth and
pressing her own passionately to it. The darkness lighted up, she saw
the sun again, and she laughed a quiet laugh of love. He shuddered to
feel her thus against his flesh, half naked beneath the tattered jacket
and trousers, and he seized her with a reawakening of his virility. It
was at length their wedding night, at the bottom of this tomb, on this
bed of mud, the longing not to die before they had had their happiness,
the obstinate longing to live and make life one last time. They loved
each other in despair of everything, in death.

After that there was nothing more. Étienne was seated on the ground,
always in the same corner, and Catherine was lying motionless on his
knees. Hours and hours passed by. For a long time he thought she was
sleeping; then he touched her; she was very cold, she was dead. He did
not move, however, for fear of arousing her. The idea that he was the
first who had possessed her as a woman, and that she might be pregnant,
filled him with tenderness. Other ideas, the desire to go away with
her, joy at what they would both do later on, came to him at moments,
but so vaguely that it seemed only as though his forehead had been
touched by a breath of sleep. He grew weaker, he only had strength to
make a little gesture, a slow movement of the hand, to assure himself
that she was certainly there, like a sleeping child in her frozen
stiffness. Everything was being annihilated; the night itself had
disappeared, and he was nowhere, out of space, out of time. Something
was certainly striking beside his head, violent blows were approaching
him; but he had been too lazy to reply, benumbed by immense fatigue;
and now he knew nothing, he only dreamed that she was walking before
him, and that he heard the slight clank of her sabots. Two days passed;
she had not stirred; he touched her with his mechanical gesture,
reassured to find her so quiet.

Étienne felt a shock. Voices were sounding, rocks were rolling to his
feet. When he perceived a lamp he wept. His blinking eyes followed the
light, he was never tired of looking at it, enraptured by this reddish
point which scarcely stained the darkness. But some mates carried him
away, and he allowed them to introduce some spoonfuls of soup between
his clenched teeth. It was only in the Réquillart gallery that he
recognized someone standing before him, the engineer, Négrel; and these
two men, with their contempt for each other--the rebellious workman and
the sceptical master--threw themselves on each other's necks, sobbing
loudly in the deep upheaval of all the humanity within them. It was an
immense sadness, the misery of generations, the extremity of grief into
which life can fall.

At the surface, Maheude, stricken down near dead Catherine, uttered
a cry, then another, then another--very long, deep, incessant moans.
Several corpses had already been brought up, and placed in a row on
the ground: Chaval, who was thought to have been crushed beneath a
landslip, a trammer, and two hewers, also crushed, with brainless
skulls and bellies swollen with water. Women in the crowd went out of
their minds, tearing their skirts and scratching their faces. When
Étienne was at last taken out, after having been accustomed to the
lamps and fed a little, he appeared fleshless, and his hair was quite
white. People turned away and shuddered at this old man. Maheude left
off crying to stare at him stupidly with her large fixed eyes.



CHAPTER VI


It was four o'clock in the morning, and the fresh April night was
growing warm at the approach of day. In the limpid sky the stars were
twinkling out, while the east grew purple with dawn. And a slight
shudder passed over the drowsy black country, the vague rumour which
precedes awakening.

Étienne, with long strides, was following the Vandame road. He had
just passed six weeks at Montsou, in bed at the hospital. Though very
thin and yellow, he felt strength to go, and he went. The Company,
still trembling for its pits, was constantly sending men away, and had
given him notice that he could not be kept on. He was offered the sum
of one hundred francs, with the paternal advice to leave off working
in mines, as it would now be too severe for him. But he refused the
hundred francs. He had already received a letter from Pluchart, calling
him to Paris, and enclosing money for the journey. His old dream would
be realized. The night before, on leaving the hospital, he had slept at
the Bon-Joyeux, Widow Désir's. And he rose early; only one desire was
left, to bid his mates farewell before taking the eight o'clock train
at Marchiennes.

For a moment Étienne stopped on the road, which was now becoming
rose-coloured. It was good to breathe that pure air of the precocious
spring. It would turn out a superb day. The sun was slowly rising, and
the life of the earth was rising with it. And he set out walking again,
vigorously striking with his brier stick, watching the plain afar, as
it rose from the vapours of the night. He had seen no one; Maheude had
come once to the hospital, and, probably, had not been able to come
again. But he knew that the whole settlement of the Deux-Cent-Quarante
was now going down at Jean-Bart, and that she too had taken work there.

Little by little the deserted roads were peopled, and colliers
constantly passed Étienne with pallid, silent faces. The Company,
people said, was abusing its victory. After two and a half months
of strike, when they had returned to the pits, conquered by hunger,
they had been obliged to accept the timbering tariff, that disguised
decrease in wages, now the more hateful because stained with the
blood of their mates. They were being robbed of an hour's work, they
were being made false to their oath never to submit; and this imposed
perjury stuck in their throats like gall. Work was beginning again
everywhere, at Mirou, at Madeleine, at Crévecoeur, at the Victoire.
Everywhere, in the morning haze, along the roads lost in darkness, the
flock was tramping on, rows of men trotting with faces bent towards the
earth, like cattle led to the slaughter-house. They shivered beneath
their thin garments, folding their arms, rolling their hips, expanding
their backs with the humps formed by the brick between the shirt
and the jacket. And in this wholesale return to work, in these mute
shadows, all black, without a laugh, without a look aside, one felt
the teeth clenched with rage, the hearts swollen with hatred, a simple
resignation to the necessity of the belly.

The nearer Étienne approached the pit the more their number increased.
They nearly all walked alone; those who came in groups were in single
file, already exhausted, tired of one another and of themselves. He
noticed one who was very old, with eyes that shone like hot coals
beneath his livid forehead. Another, a young man, was panting with the
restrained fury of a storm. Many had their sabots in their hands; one
could scarcely hear the soft sound of their coarse woollen stockings on
the ground. It was an endless rustling, a general downfall, the forced
march of a beaten army, moving on with lowered heads, sullenly absorbed
in the desire to renew the struggle and achieve revenge.

When Étienne arrived, Jean-Bart was emerging from the shade; the
lanterns, hooked on to the platform, were still burning in the
growing dawn. Above the obscure buildings a trail of steam arose
like a white plume delicately tinted with carmine. He passed up
the sifting-staircase to go to the receiving-room. The descent was
beginning, and the men were coming from the shed. For a moment he stood
by, motionless amid the noise and movement. The rolling of the trams
shook the metal floor, the drums were turning, unrolling the cables in
the midst of cries from the trumpet, the ringing of bells, blows of
the mallet on the signal block; he found the monster again swallowing
his daily ration of human flesh, the cages rising and plunging,
engulfing their burden of men, without ceasing, with the facile gulp of
a voracious giant. Since his accident he had a nervous horror of the
mine. The cages, as they sank down, tore his bowels. He had to turn
away his head; the pit exasperated him.

But in the vast and still sombre hall, feebly lighted up by the
exhausted lanterns, he could perceive no friendly face. The miners,
who were waiting there with bare feet and their lamps in their hands,
looked at him with large restless eyes, and then lowered their faces,
drawing back with an air of shame. No doubt they knew him and no longer
had any spite against him; they seemed, on the contrary, to fear him,
blushing at the thought that he would reproach them with cowardice.
This attitude made his heart swell; he forgot that these wretches had
stoned him, he again began to dream of changing them into heroes, of
directing a whole people, this force of nature which was devouring
itself. A cage was embarking its men, and the batch disappeared; as
others arrived he saw at last one of his lieutenants in the strike, a
worthy fellow who had sworn to die.

"You too!" he murmured, with aching heart.

The other turned pale and his lips trembled; then, with a movement of
excuse:

"What would you have? I've got a wife."

Now in the new crowd coming from the shed he recognized them all.

"You too!--you too!--you too!"

And all shrank back, stammering in choked voices:

"I have a mother."--"I have children."--"One must get bread."

The cage did not reappear; they waited for it mournfully, with such
sorrow at their defeat that they avoided meeting each other's eyes,
obstinately gazing at the shaft.

"And Maheude?" Étienne asked.

They made no reply. One made a sign that she was coming. Others raised
their arms, trembling with pity. Ah, poor woman! what wretchedness!
The silence continued, and when Étienne stretched out his hand to bid
them farewell, they all pressed it vigorously, putting into that mute
squeeze their rage at having yielded, their feverish hope of revenge.
The cage was there; they got into it and sank, devoured by the gulf.

Pierron had appeared with his naked captain's lamp fixed into the
leather of his cap. For the past week he had been chief of the gang
at the pit-eye, and the men moved away, for promotion had rendered
him bossy. The sight of Étienne annoyed him; he came up, however, and
was at last reassured when the young man announced his departure.
They talked. His wife now kept the Estaminet du Progrés, thanks to
the support of all those gentlemen, who had been so good to her. But
he interrupted himself and turned furiously on to Father Mouque,
whom he accused of not sending up the dung-heap from his stable at
the regulation hour. The old man listened with bent shoulders. Then,
before going down, suffering from this reprimand, he, too, gave his
hand to Étienne, with the same long pressure as the others, warm with
restrained anger and quivering with future rebellion. And this old hand
which trembled in his, this old man who was forgiving him for the loss
of his dead children, affected Étienne to such a degree that he watched
him disappear without saying a word.

"Then Maheude is not coming this morning?" he asked Pierron after a
time.

At first the latter pretended not to understand, for there was ill luck
even in speaking of her. Then, as he moved away, under the pretext of
giving an order, he said at last:

"Eh! Maheude? There she is."

In fact, Maheude had reached the shed with her lamp in her hand,
dressed in trousers and jacket, with her head confined in the cap. It
was by a charitable exception that the Company, pitying the fate of
this unhappy woman, so cruelly afflicted, had allowed her to go down
again at the age of forty; and as it seemed difficult to set her again
at haulage work, she was employed to manipulate a small ventilator
which had been installed in the north gallery, in those infernal
regions beneath Tartaret, where there was no movement of air. For
ten hours, with aching back, she turned her wheel at the bottom of a
burning tube, baked by forty degrees of heat. She earned thirty sous.

When Étienne saw her, a pitiful sight in her male garments--her breast
and belly seeming to be swollen by the dampness of the cuttings--he
stammered with surprise, trying to find words to explain that he was
going away and that he wished to say good-bye to her.

She looked at him without listening, and said at last, speaking
familiarly:

"Eh? it surprises you to see me. It's true enough that I threatened to
wring the neck of the first of my children who went down again; and now
that I'm going down I ought to wring my own, ought I not? Ah, well! I
should have done it by now if it hadn't been for the old man and the
little ones at the house."

And she went on in her low, fatigued voice. She did not excuse herself,
she simply narrated things--that they had been nearly starved, and that
she had made up her mind to it, so that they might not be sent away
from the settlement.

"How is the old man?" asked Étienne.

"He is always very gentle and very clean. But he is quite off his nut.
He was not brought up for that affair, you know. There was talk of
shutting him up with the madmen, but I was not willing; they would have
done for him in his soup. His story has, all the same, been very bad
for us, for he'll never get his pension; one of those gentlemen told me
that it would be immoral to give him one."

"Is Jeanlin working?"

"Yes, those gentlemen found something for him to do at the top. He gets
twenty sous. Oh! I don't complain; the bosses have been very good, as
they told me themselves. The brat's twenty sous and my thirty, that
makes fifty. If there were not six of us we should get enough to eat.
Estelle devours now, and the worst is that it will be four or five
years before Lénore and Henri are old enough to come to the pit."

Étienne could not restrain a movement of pain.

"They, too!"

Maheude's pale cheeks turned red, and her eyes flamed. But her
shoulders sank as if beneath the weight of destiny.

"What would you have? They after the others. They have all been done
for there; now it's their turn."

She was silent; some landers, who were rolling trams, disturbed them.
Through the large dusty windows the early sun was entering, drowning
the lanterns in grey light; and the engine moved every three minutes,
the cables unrolled, the cages continued to swallow down men.

"Come along, you loungers, look sharp!" shouted Pierron. "Get in; we
shall never have done with it today."

Maheude, whom he was looking at, did not stir. She had already allowed
three cages to pass, and she said, as though arousing herself and
remembering Étienne's first words:

"Then you're going away?"

"Yes, this morning."

"You're right; better be somewhere else if one can. And I'm glad to
have seen you, because you can know now, anyhow, that I've nothing on
my mind against you. For a moment I could have killed you, after all
that slaughter. But one thinks, doesn't one? One sees that when all's
reckoned up it's nobody's fault. No, no! it's not your fault; it's the
fault of everybody."

Now she talked with tranquillity of her dead, of her man, of Zacharie,
of Catherine; and tears only came into her eyes when she uttered
Alzire's name. She had resumed her calm reasonableness, and judged
things sensibly. It would bring no luck to the middle class to have
killed so many poor people. Sure enough, they would be punished for it
one day, for everything has to be paid for. There would even be no need
to interfere; the whole thing would explode by itself. The soldiers
would fire on the masters just as they had fired on the men. And in her
everlasting resignation, in that hereditary discipline under which she
was again bowing, a conviction had established itself, the certainty
that injustice could not last longer, and that, if there were no good
God left, another would spring up to avenge the wretched.

She spoke in a low voice, with suspicious glances round. Then, as
Pierron was coming up, she added, aloud:

"Well, if you're going, you must take your things from our house. There
are still two shirts, three handkerchiefs, and an old pair of trousers."

Étienne, with a gesture, refused these few things saved from the
dealers.

"No, it's not worth while; they can be for the children. At Paris I can
arrange for myself."

Two more cages had gone down, and Pierron decided to speak straight to
Maheude.

"I say now, over there, they are waiting for you! Is that little chat
nearly done?"

But she turned her back. Why should he be so zealous, this man who
had sold himself? The descent didn't concern him. His men hated him
enough already on his level. And she persisted, with her lamp in her
hand, frozen amid the draughts in spite of the mildness of the season.
Neither Étienne nor she found anything more to say. They remained
facing each other with hearts so full that they would have liked to
speak once more.

At last she spoke for the sake of speaking.

"The Levaque is in the family way. Levaque is still in prison;
Bouteloup is taking his place meanwhile."

"Ah, yes! Bouteloup."

"And, listen! did I tell you? Philoméne has gone away."

"What! gone away?"

"Yes, gone away with a Pas-de-Calais miner. I was afraid she would
leave the two brats on me. But no, she took them with her. Eh? A woman
who spits blood and always looks as if she were on the point of death!"

She mused for a moment, and then went on in a slow voice:

"There's been talk on my account. You remember they said I slept with
you. Lord! After my man's death that might very well have happened if
I had been younger. But now I'm glad it wasn't so, for we should have
regretted it, sure enough."

"Yes, we should have regretted it," Étienne repeated, simply.

That was all; they spoke no more. A cage was waiting for her; she was
being called angrily, threatened with a fine. Then she made up her
mind, and pressed his hand. Deeply moved, he still looked at her, so
worn and worked out, with her livid face, her discoloured hair escaping
from the blue cap, her body as of a good over-fruitful beast, deformed
beneath the jacket and trousers. And in this last pressure of the
hands he felt again the long, silent pressure of his mates, giving him
a rendezvous for the day when they would begin again. He understood
perfectly. There was a tranquil faith in the depths of her eyes. It
would be soon, and this time it would be the final blow.

"What a damned shammer!" exclaimed Pierron.

Pushed and hustled, Maheude squeezed into a tram with four others. The
signal-cord was drawn to strike for meat, the cage was unhooked and
fell into the night, and there was nothing more but the rapid flight of
the cable.

Then Étienne left the pit. Below, beneath the screening-shed, he
noticed a creature seated on the earth, with legs stretched out, in the
midst of a thick pile of coal. It was Jeanlin, who was employed there
to clean the large coal. He held a block of coal between his thighs,
and freed it with a hammer from the fragments of slate. A fine powder
drowned him in such a flood of soot that the young man would never have
recognized him if the child had not lifted his ape-like face, with the
protruding ears and small greenish eyes. He laughed, with a joking air,
and, giving a final blow to the block, disappeared in the black dust
which arose.

Outside, Étienne followed the road for a while, absorbed in his
thoughts. All sorts of ideas were buzzing in his head. But he felt the
open air, the free sky, and he breathed deeply. The sun was appearing
in glory at the horizon, there was a reawakening of gladness over the
whole country. A flood of gold rolled from the east to the west on
the immense plain. This heat of life was expanding and extending in a
tremor of youth, in which vibrated the sighs of the earth, the song of
birds, all the murmuring sounds of the waters and the woods. It was
good to live, and the old world wanted to live through one more spring.

And penetrated by that hope, Étienne slackened his walk, his eyes
wandering to right and to left amid the gaiety of the new season. He
thought about himself, he felt himself strong, seasoned by his hard
experiences at the bottom of the mine. His education was complete, he
was going away armed, a rational soldier of the revolution, having
declared war against society as he saw it and as he condemned it. The
joy of rejoining Pluchart and of being, like Pluchart, a leader who was
listened to, inspired him with speeches, and he began to arrange the
phrases. He was meditating an enlarged programme; that middle-class
refinement, which had raised him above his class, had deepened his
hatred of the middle class. He felt the need of glorifying these
workers, whose odour of wretchedness was now unpleasant to him; he
would show that they alone were great and stainless, the only nobility
and the only strength in which humanity could be dipped afresh. He
already saw himself in the tribune, triumphing with the people, if the
people did not devour him.

The loud song of a lark made him look up towards the sky. Little red
clouds, the last vapours of the night, were melting in the limpid
blue; and the vague faces of Souvarine and Rasseneur came to his
memory. Decidedly, all was spoilt when each man tried to get power
for himself. Thus that famous International which was to have renewed
the world had impotently miscarried, and its formidable army had been
cut up and crumbled away from internal dissensions. Was Darwin right,
then, and the world only a battlefield, where the strong ate the weak
for the sake of the beauty and continuance of the race? This question
troubled him, although he settled it like a man who is satisfied
with his knowledge. But one idea dissipated his doubts and enchanted
him--that of taking up his old explanation of the theory the first time
that he should speak. If any class must be devoured, would not the
people, still new and full of life, devour the middle class, exhausted
by enjoyment? The new society would arise from new blood. And in this
expectation of an invasion of barbarians, regenerating the old decayed
nations, reappeared his absolute faith in an approaching revolution,
the real one--that of the workers--the fire of which would inflame this
century's end with that purple of the rising sun which he saw like
blood on the sky.

He still walked, dreaming, striking his brier stick against the flints
on the road, and when he glanced around him he recognized the various
places. Just there, at the Fourche-aux-Boeufs, he remembered that he
had taken command of the band that morning when the pits were sacked.
Today the brutish, deathly, ill-paid work was beginning over again.
Beneath the earth, down there at seven hundred metres, it seemed to him
he heard low, regular, continuous blows; it was the men he had just
seen go down, the black workers, who were hammering in their silent
rage. No doubt they were beaten. They had left their dead and their
money on the field; but Paris would not forget the volleys fired at
the Voreux, and the blood of the empire, too, would flow from that
incurable wound. And if the industrial crisis was drawing to an end,
if the workshops were opening again one by one, a state of war was
no less declared, and peace was henceforth impossible. The colliers
had reckoned up their men; they had tried their strength, with their
cry for justice arousing the workers all over France. Their defeat,
therefore, reassured no one. The Montsou bourgeois, in their victory,
felt the vague uneasiness that arises on the morrow of a strike,
looking behind them to see if their end did not lie inevitably over
there, in spite of all beyond that great silence. They understood that
the revolution would be born again unceasingly, perhaps to-morrow,
with a general strike--the common understanding of all workers having
general funds, and so able to hold out for months, eating their own
bread. This time a push only had been given to a ruinous society, but
they had heard the rumbling beneath their feet, and they felt more
shocks arising, and still more, until the old edifice would be crushed,
fallen in and swallowed, going down like the Voreux to the abyss.

Étienne took the Joiselle road, to the left. He remembered that he had
prevented the band from rushing on to Gaston-Marie. Afar, in the clear
sky he saw the steeples of several pits--Mirou to the right, Madeleine
and Crévecoeur side by side. Work was going on everywhere; he seemed
to be able to catch the blows of the pick at the bottom of the earth,
striking now from one end of the plain to the other, one blow, and
another blow, and yet more blows, beneath the fields and roads and
villages which were laughing in the light, all the obscure labour of
the underground prison, so crushed by the enormous mass of the rocks
that one had to know it was underneath there to distinguish its great
painful sigh. And he now thought that, perhaps, violence would not
hasten things. Cutting cables, tearing up rails, breaking lamps, what a
useless task it was! It was not worth while for three thousand men to
rush about in a devastating band doing that. He vaguely divined that
lawful methods might one day be more terrible. His reason was ripening,
he had sown the wild oats of his spite. Yes, Maheude had well said,
with her good sense, that that would be the great blow--to organize
quietly, to know one another, to unite in associations when the laws
would permit it; then, on the morning when they felt their strength,
and millions of workers would be face to face with a few thousand
idlers, to take the power into their own hands and become the masters.
Ah! what a reawakening of truth and justice! The sated and crouching
god would at once get his death-blow, the monstrous idol hidden in the
depths of his sanctuary, in that unknown distance where poor wretches
fed him with their flesh without ever having seen him.

But Étienne, leaving the Vandame road, now came on to the paved street.
On the right he saw Montsou, which was lost in the valley. Opposite
were the ruins of the Voreux, the accursed hole where three pumps
worked unceasingly. Then there were the other pits at the horizon, the
Victoire, Saint-Thomas, Feutry-Cantel; while, towards the north, the
tall chimneys of the blast furnaces, and the batteries of coke ovens,
were smoking in the transparent morning air. If he was not to lose the
eight o'clock train he must hasten, for he had still six kilometres
before him.

And beneath his feet, the deep blows, those obstinate blows of the
pick, continued. The mates were all there; he heard them following him
at every stride. Was not that Maheude beneath the beetroots, with bent
back and hoarse respiration accompanying the rumble of the ventilator?
To left, to right, farther on, he seemed to recognize others beneath
the wheatfields, the hedges, the young trees. Now the April sun, in the
open sky, was shining in his glory, and warming the pregnant earth.
From its fertile flanks life was leaping out, buds were bursting into
green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the
grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the
plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap was
mixed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanding in a
great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they
were approaching the soil, the mates were hammering. In the fiery rays
of the sun on this youthful morning the country seemed full of that
sound. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating
slowly in the furrows, growing towards the harvests of the next
century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.





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