The last Sunday in July is a celebration day in Montsou and the entire village is eager to get there. Every miner’s house has been meticulously cleaned and the heat is oppressive. By eleven o’clock, the house smells delicious and the family eats at noon; it is a rare and sumptuous feast for them.
The Maheus have not been speaking to their neighbors, the Levaques, for the past three weeks over Zacharie and Philomene not getting married. After the meal, family members begin to leave. Maheu goes to find Levaque but ends up listening to La Levaque screaming her disgust at having to take care of Philomene’s children while Philomene and Zacharie continue to “roll around in the hay” at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, the village gradually empties until only the women and infants remain, and they gather around dinner tables and drink coffee. Maheu finds Levaque, Grandpa Bonnemort, and old Mouque behind Rasseneur’s bar playing or watching a game of skittles. Lantier is sitting at a table in a thin strip of shade drinking a beer. Souverine has left to write or read alone, as he does most Sundays.
Amid the cheers and laughter of a good play, La Mouquette appears and the men tease her about being alone—for once. Lantier joins in the banter, and he is the one La Mouquette is interested in, though he says she is fun but he does not “fancy her in the slightest.” She finally walks away with a pained expression on her face.
Lantier talks quietly to Maheu about establishing a provident fund for any urgent needs miners might have, reminding the older man that the Company has said they can do so. It is a sensible thing to have a mutual aid association as a backup to the Company’s changeable pensions. After Lantier gives the details and promises to do all the difficult work himself, Maheu is persuaded but Lantier will have to convince the others.
The men make their way to Montsou, stopping along the way to greet friends and drink beer until Levaque suggests they go to the Volcano, a bar and home-base for prostitutes. Here Lantier corners Levaque and explains his idea, but Levaque only absently says he has nothing against the idea. As they leave the Volcano, La Mouquette follows Lantier, asking him with big eyes if he will come with her, but he simply makes a joke of it.
At their next stop, Zacharie is brawling with a nailer as Chaval casually watches. He and Catherine had been walking for the past five hours, taking in all the raucous activity of the fair. Catherine sees her brother Jeanlin inciting several others to steal some liquor from a makeshift bar and gives him a punch, fearing he and his friends will end up in prison one day. Chaval eventually takes Catherine to see a songbird competition. That is where they were when Zacharie and Philomene arrive; soon the four of them go...
(The entire section contains 773 words.)
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