Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary
La Maheude stops on her way home to buy some potatoes from a supervisor’s wife in an area the miners call the First Estate, as opposed to their own area called Never-Never-Land. When she and the children arrive home, baby Estelle is screaming. Bonnemort snores happily through the racket.
As she feeds Estelle and begins to prepare some potatoes, La Maheude remembers the brioche the Grégoires had given them and realizes Lenore and Henri had surreptitiously eaten it on the way home. Bonnemort comes down earlier than usual to eat his meal of potatoes and coffee between his coughing and spitting. La Maheude takes a little coffee in some paper to La Pieronne, who had loaned her some a few days before, and is surprised to see Madame Hennebeau showing several well dressed guests around the village.
La Pieronne is twenty-eight and still has a shapely bust, as she has not had any children, though she has an eight-year-old stepdaughter. She keeps a sparkling home and her family eats meat twice a week; they are a happy family, despite the gossip that both of them have frequent lovers. She has good connections to the Company and has been authorized to sell sweets and biscuits from her home, earning her plenty of extra money.
The women quietly sip coffee and La Pieronne comments on the ugliness of the Levaques’ house and their disgusting behavior, surprised that La Maheude allows her son to go with their daughter. She tells her hostess that it is impossible to keep them apart, given their proximity. This is a common story: children conceived on the low, sloping roof of a shed without a care for who might see them. These couples eventually get married, and only their mothers are angry because their sons are no longer bringing in any income. La Maheude is incensed at the idea that Zacharie might leave to start his own family.
On her way home, La Maheude encounters La Levaque who says she has something to tell her. The Levaque home is grimy and smelly. Philomène’s children, Achille and Désirée, and the Levaques' boarder are there; the slatternly matron is older than Bouteloup the boarder and her services are included in his rent. They gossip about La Pieronne until they get serious and talk about Zacharie and Philomène. Neither of them wanted a marriage at first, as they will both lose income; however, with the children to feed, La Levaque wants the marriage soon.
La Maheude suggests they wait until it gets warmer and says she will “strangle” Catherine if she discovers she is doing “anything silly.” La Lavaque shrugs and says she will do the same as all the other girls. Out the window they see Madame Hennebeau taking her guests to visit La Pieronne, obviously because it is a clean and tidy place. (Her sleeping with the overman who makes three thousand a month is a major reason for that, so the house may be perfect on the surface...
(The entire section is 777 words.)