Part 4, Chapter 2 Summary
Yesterday, Lantier and some others met at Rasseneur’s to choose the members of the delegation. La Maheude was distraught to learn that her husband was part of the deputation, fearful that her family would be turned out into the street. Maheu was reluctant at first, as well. Despite their crushing, unjust poverty, both have “lapsed back into their habitual state of inbred acquiescence.” At their quiet dinner table, Lantier tells Maheu they are all counting on him to be the spokesman for the group; La Maheude objects until Lantier explains why. Maheu is the best, most respected, and most popular worker in the mines and everyone sees him as having good sense; any demands the group makes will have more credibility coming from him.
The twenty-member deputation meets at The Advantage and agrees on the conditions they will present to the Company before arriving at Hennebeau’s. All have them are uncomfortable in the house, though they had all shaved and donned their best clothes before coming. They spend five minutes in this sumptuous room, successfully insulated from anything in the outside world, before Hennebeau enters and stiffly asks them to be seated so they can talk.
A few sit, but most stand rather than sit on the embroidered silk fabrics. Hennebeau rolls his chair in front of the fireplace and looks for a familiar face among the men. He sees Pierron and then asks Lantier what the men have come to tell him. Hennebeau is surprised to see Maheu step forward; he says Maheu has always been such a loyal and reasonable worker and he hates seeing him associated with such troublemakers. Maheu is silent for a moment before he quietly begins to speak.
Maheu agrees that he has been a peaceful man, and that must prove to the Company that this is not just a matter of a few workers trying to cause trouble; instead the workers only want what it fair. They are weary of starving to death and want at least enough to earn a day’s worth of bread for their families. His voice gets stronger as he looks directly at Hennebeau and admits they have not been timbering the mines as they should, but it is because they cannot afford to lose any more pay since coal is the only thing which makes them any money. They have done the figuring, and this new system does nothing but give more money to the Company and less to the workers.
Hennebeau is about to interrupt, but Maheu will not be stopped. He speaks of things he had not even realized were in him, and he ends by saying that if they were going to die, they would rather die doing nothing rather than live in a constant state of exhaustion. If they are going to work, they want the old system back plus an additional five centimes per tub of coal. It is up to the Company to decide whether it believes in “justice and the value of work.” Behind Maheu, the men nod or speak their agreement.
Hennebeau finally shouts in frustration, claiming that the Company is not making extra money with the new system; however, when he...
(The entire section is 799 words.)