All is quiet in the Maheu household after the workers leave—except for the snoring of Bonnemort, the children’s grandfather, home from his night at the mine. There is a flurry of activity in the quarters as the women who work in the screening-shed leave for work at six o’clock. Silence reigns until seven; then the sound of slapping and screaming through the partition walls wakes Alize and she hurries to wake her mother who has overslept.
La Maheude gets herself ready and Alize both calms baby Estelle and breaks up the fights between six-year-old Lenore and four-year-old Henri as she dresses them, trying not to wake their grandfather. La Maheude gathers the last meager supplies for some breakfast and knows she has to get some money from the rich family or the rest of her family will have nothing to eat when they return from the mines. The three children have something to eat; their mother settles for hot water with a slight coffee flavor. Around them, children are leaving for school and women are gossiping. La Maheude and the two children begin walking; there is mud everywhere and the two children are intent on playing with it in some form. After they have both been smacked into obedience, the children struggle to walk through the mire.
They walk a path connecting one industrial town seamlessly to the next. Several detached houses distinguish themselves from the barrack-type buildings, and there is even a church. What is most notable, though, are the dance halls, taverns, and beer halls—five hundred of them for every thousand houses. They pass the large home of Hennebeau, the mine manager, and then reach Maigrat’s shop. Maigrat once had a modest shop but has been quite successful because the Company built his home and shop, but the Company owns him.
Maigrat is a fat little man who prides himself on never changing his mind, so when La Maheude pleads her case, he is unmoved. She has owed him sixty francs for the past two years, beginning with the mining strike and has just never had enough extra to pay him back. Maigrat begs for some bread, but he is unbending. His scrawny wife stands in the doorway, a cowering woman who is regularly forced to leave her own bed when the miners send their wives and daughters to Maigrat for credit and he sleeps with them. La Maheude leaves, warning the shopkeeper that his refusal to help will bring him bad luck.
She and her children walk to La Piolaine; she daydreams about how she would spend any money they give her. They pass by the fat Montsou priest who appears to care about nothing in hopes of keeping the peace with both the workers and their bosses; she wonders if he will offer her something, but he does not. At last they arrive and are shown into the cozy kitchen.
The Grégoires leave their...
(The entire section contains 765 words.)
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