Part 4, Chapter 5 Summary
Two weeks go by; it is early January and it is cold. The miners’ situation is worse than it has ever been, and starvation is imminent. The International in London sent some assistance, but that is gone now, and the “failure of their one great hope” has everyone feeling discouraged and abandoned.
Village Two Hundred and Forty is out of everything, despite frantic efforts at collections and raising public awareness as far away as Paris. All the miners’ belongings are silently appearing at the second-hand dealers, including wool stuffing from mattresses, kitchen utensils, and furniture. With no more credit available and nothing left to sell, “they might as well lie down and die in a corner like so many mangy dogs.”
Lantier would have sold his own flesh after pawning everything but his boots. His only regret is that the strike happened to early, before his benevolent fund had a chance to accumulate some funds. To him, that is the only flaw in the current plan; if the fund had been full there would have been help for the miners and the workers would have defeated their bosses. Lantier remembers Souvarine’s opinion that the Company provoked the strike when it did, knowing there were scarce reserves in the fund.
Lantier takes long, exhausting walks. One evening he finds an old woman collapsed on the road; he sees La Mouquette and asks her to help. Tears fill her eyes as she gives the old woman a bit of gin and something to eat; the woman revives and walks off unsteadily.
La Mouquette invites Lantier into her house and, after hesitating, he goes. As she pours him a small drink, he commends her on the tidiness of her room. She begs him to make love to her, and suddenly he cannot resist. Afterwards, she thanks him profusely and Lantier is a bit ashamed.
The village learns that the Company might offer concessions if the workers’ would make a new approach to the manager. In truth, the mines are in worse shape than the miners because of their stubborn stand. While labor is dying of hunger, capital is bleeding to death, and each idle day means the loss of thousands of francs: “The machine that lies idle is a machine that is dying.” The plant and equipment are deteriorating and customers of the mine are finding other sources for their coal. The deputies are unable to keep up with the repairs and rock-falls are happening every hour. The damage is enough that it will take months of repair before any coal can be mined.
The delegates decide to visit Hennebeau, though they are agreed not to make any concessions. Maheu again does the talking and at first Hennebeau acts surprised. Eventually he expresses his willingness to compromise. The delegates restate their terms and steadfastly refuse his offer, even when he begs them. The meeting ends abruptly as Hennebeau slams the doors shut.
The women try to extract an extra week of credit from Maigrat, their last hope. There is a terrible scene at...
(The entire section is 786 words.)