When Maheu finally arrives home, he sees his older children already eating without even changing clothes. Nobody ever waits for anyone else; the table is permanently set for whomever and whenever someone can eat. He sees the groceries and is relieved. He is served the best food they have as the cleanup begins. Catherine is the first to bathe openly in the small tub next to the fire; the boys follow, and all of them leave their filthy, wet clothing in a heap on the floor.
As Alzire mops up after them, her father eats his meal in silence as he prefers. Henri and Lenore hover nearby as he eats the meat, and he is annoyed because it makes him feel guilty. Though both his wife and Alzire lie and say they have all already had their meat, Maheu gives both of them some bits of his.
Jeanlin comes downstairs dressed to go out in his brother’s hand-me-downs, but his mother catches him trying to sneak out and insists he pick some dandelions for tonight’s salad. Zacharie comes downstairs next and his father admonishes him not to come home too late. The boy nods curtly and leaves. It is Maheu’s turn to bathe, and he does so in private. Alzire takes the two children outside and Catherine stays upstairs mending a dress she tore yesterday.
At last husband and wife are alone and can talk. As they both scrub him clean, she tells him how she got the food. The scrubbing takes so much effort that soon she has barely enough breath to finish her story. Maheu is warm and happy, and his wife does not want to worry him with the news that Maigrat expects payment from Catherine. All the scrubbing and rubbing makes Maheu playful, and the couple enjoys a little time alone in the house. After they are finished, he keeps his chest bare as most of the other miners do. Even in this damp weather, they now sit bare-chested on their doorsteps, as if airing their “tired workmen’s flesh.”
A relaxed Maheu tells his wife about Negrel’s anger at their timbering, and she offers her always sound advice that there is nothing to be gained by...
(The entire section contains 581 words.)
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