Part 4, Chapter 6 Summary
Jeanlin and his two friends, Lydie and Bébert, are keeping watch from behind a rickety fence across from a seedy grocer’s shop with a dusty dried cod hanging from the window. Tonight there are many people on the road, including Hennebeau. He has often been seen riding on the roads since the strike began, seeing firsthand the state of the workers. No one has ever threatened him as he rides.
Next the kids’ plans are thwarted by Zacharie and Mouquet who make plans to play crosse the next day and Lantier and another man who say the meeting in the forest has been postponed until tomorrow night. Once the road is completely clear, Jeanlin sends Bébert across the street and tells him to grab it by the tail and be careful. Bébert grabs the fish, and all three of them run as the blind old woman keeping the shop shouts after them.
These children have become the “the scourge of the region,” treating the landscape as if it were their personal empire from which to plunder whatever they can find or steal. Jeanlin is the undisputed leader, even forcing Lydia to steal from her mother. Though she was beaten for it, Lydie did not betray Jeanlin out of fear. Bébert also turns everything over to Jeanlin, who keeps most of it for himself, thankful not to be beaten.
Jeanlin has been overstepping his power for some time, beating Lydie as if she were his wife and exploiting Bébert’s gullibility. He clearly despises them both and often leaves them suddenly, ordering them to return to the village. He does that tonight after grabbing the cod from Bébert. A common terror of Jeanlin has fostered a deep affection between Lydie and Bébert, though neither acts on their desires because of their fear.
Lantier arrives rather ashamedly to see La Mouquette, intending to break things off with her. She is not there so he waits in the darkness. Réquillart has become overgrown during the strike, though Lantier can see the entrance to the old mine. Suddenly he hears a rustling and then sees a match being lit; it is Jeanlin and Lantier watches the boy slither down a mine shaft at the other end of the platform.
Lantier silently follows the boy below ground, nearly stifling from the close proximity to the mine’s furnace. If it had been running at full capacity, the heat would have been unbearable. Lantier struggles to keep up with Jeanlin; he has climbed down twenty ladders and they are still descending. The pathways are crumbling from disuse, but finally Jeanlin sets his candle down at the end of the old haulage road. Here Jeanlin has created a comfortable home, surrounded by a plethora of stolen goods.
Lantier yells at him, accusing him of having all this while his family and others are starving. Jeanlin simply offers him some food and they talk. Jeanlin is not ashamed of stealing or of treating Lydie and Bébert so terribly; he claims it is not his fault if others are not smart enough to survive. Lantier considers turning the boy in to his father but realizes he may one day...
(The entire section is 824 words.)