Part 5, Chapter 5 Summary
Hennebeau is alone in the quiet house with his servant Hippolyte and the cook, who is busy preparing for this evening’s dinner party. Hippolyte announces Dansaert, who has brought news of the meeting which has taken place in the forest last night. They discuss the strike but dismiss it as just “another piece of bravado.” They do not believe they are under any serious threat.
Once Dansaert leaves, however, Hennebeau considers sending a message to the Prefect. His reluctance to reveal his anxiety keeps him from doing so. He regrets his lack of judgment in telling the Board that the strike would last two weeks at most; it has already lasted two months and he is beginning to despair. Each day Hennebeau feels more diminished and knows he must think of some great coup if he wants to recover the favor of the Board. He has written the Board to ask for instructions on what to do if fighting breaks out but has heard nothing from them. Hennebeau has convinced himself that he will have enough time to send for troops if the worst happens.
Hennebeau works until eleven o’clock when he receives telegrams describing the damage the mob did to the mines and equipment. Hennebeau wonders why the strikers are attacking Deneulin rather than one of the Company’s mines, but their attacks compliment Hennebeau’s ambitions to take over.
He goes to his nephew’s room to search for a letter they drafted last night. The room is offensively untidy. He searches for the note but his eye is caught by the glint of a perfume vial on the unmade bed; he recognizes the bottle as his wife’s and realizes an “abominable thing” has been happening in his own home. His wife is sleeping with her nephew.
Messengers and telegrams arrive, but Hennebeau is immobilized by his devastating and shameful realization. He is suddenly filled with rage, wondering what kind of woman has an affair with her nephew even as she arranges a marriage for him. It is depraved and Hennebeau wonders who she will consume next and how much lower she is willing to go once her “obliging nephew” is unavailable to her. It is torturous thinking and even Hippolyte’s timid attempts to tell Hennebeau of the strikers’ violence are not enough to divert his thoughts. Finally, as a “supreme act of will,” he goes downstairs.
Each messenger has news of fresh violence, but Hennebeau’s mind is still on the bedroom upstairs. He finally rouses himself enough to read the reply from the Board; they are content to have the violence because the strike will end sooner if the mob provokes “firm action to contain them.” Hennebeau sends telegrams requesting military help, but none of these problems affect him as much as his personal crisis. He is shocked from his reverie by the shouts for bread by the mob of strikers passing his house.
Madame Hennebeau, Negrel, and Cecile are dining at a farmhouse nearby and hear the same shouts. The group hides in the barn as the mob of two thousand angry strikers marches past them, screaming and carrying weapons.
Anger and starvation have combined to create an...
(The entire section is 819 words.)