Victor Deneulin is asleep at four o’clock in the morning when one of his deputies calls to him that the miners are mutinying. Half of the men refuse to work and will not let the other half go down the shaft. The standoff has been going on for an hour, and Deneulin is probably the only one who can break the impasse.
As he leaves for the mine, his daughters Lucie, twenty-two, and Jeanne, nineteen, are concerned. He reassures them, but they refuse to let him leave the house until he eats breakfast. Deneulin finally relents despite the urgency of the moment. The girls lost their mother when they were quite young and have been spoiled by their father, but they have learned to be much more resourceful since business troubles caused them to change their style of living. The girls offer to stay home with their father, skipping their luncheon with Madame Hennebeau, but he insists they go.
As he walks to the mine, Deneulin worries about this new danger to his fortune: the Montsou denier, the million francs he has made but is deathly afraid of losing. A series of events have jeopardized his fortune, including expensive repairs, extremely high operating costs, and the current industrial crisis just when he is about to realize a profit.
Jean-Bart is smaller than Le Voreux, but it has new machinery and a new plant, so it is a fine pit with many modern innovations. The first worker to arrive this morning was Chaval, and he created dissent and unrest among his fellow workers, convincing them they should strike just like the Montsou miners. Soon the four hundred workers were arguing, and the deputies were shouting and trying to keep order, begging the dissenters to allow those who wanted to work to do so.
Chaval is incensed when he sees Catherine in her mining clothes, ready to work. He had instructed her to stay away from the mine today, but she knows she has to keep earning money. Her worst fear is ending up in the brothel at Marchiennes, which is what happens to women like her who have no money and no place to sleep. Chaval screams at Catherine and she explains that she wants to work because she has no other way to earn a living. He tells her to go home or he will beat her; she retreats but does not leave.
Deneulin arrives, confident that a simple word from him will be enough to calm the workers back to work. The men respect him because he is often down at the coal-face with them and is the first to arrive for any terrible accidents. With a paternal air, Deneulin says he hopes the workers will not disappoint him, for he is the one who refused to allow a police guard at the mine. Chaval relates their demand for five centimes more per tub of coal.
This infuriates Deneulin, but he controls his temper and agrees that the job is worth that price but he cannot pay it. He must make a living in order for the workers to make a living, and he is all but bankrupt right now. The workers remain unmoved, so Deneulin explains...
(The entire section contains 805 words.)
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